The only company in our Summer 2020 edition of InFocus: 5 Biotechs to Watch in China to be helmed by a non-founding CEO, I-Mab Biopharma has advanced since its establishment in 2017 at a pace that would seem to outpace the fast-moving China biotech industry.
[Post-merger], I-Mab became an integrated biotech company with discovery, CMC, pre-clinical and clinical development capabilities, which is what has driven our fast growth over the past couple of years
Founded through the merger of two Chinese biotechs, Third Venture Biotech and Tasgen, I-Mab Biopharma was given a strong boost from their complementary existing capabilities. As President Dr Zheru Zhang revealed, “Third Venture Capital had its strengths more on the discovery and early clinical development side, while Tasgen was strong in CMC and non-clinical development so the combination of both companies formed a whole drug discovery and development value chain. I-Mab became an integrated biotech company with discovery, CMC, pre-clinical and clinical development capabilities, which is what has driven our fast growth over the past couple of years.”
In three short years, the company has established operations in Shanghai and Beijing, as well as Maryland, US, in addition to achieving a successful IPO on NASDAQ in January 2020, raising USD 114.5 million. It is the first Chinese biotech to IPO on NASDAQ since 2017, bucking the steady trend of Chinese biotech IPOs on HKEX since revisions to its listing rules in April 2018. The company’s NASDAQ share price stood at USD 29.59 on August 18 2020, up from USD 12.50 upon launch in January.
We have a number of very innovative and globally competitive assets in fairly early stages
CFO Jielun Zhu, who joined the company in 2019 to prepare the company for its IPO, explained their strategic rationale thusly: “we have a number of very innovative and globally competitive assets in fairly early stages. In order for that potential to be assessed and valued correctly, we wanted to place them on a platform with the right levels of specialist knowledge and experience, and also a platform where our peer companies – with similar levels of early-stage cutting-edge innovations – have also IPOed. The NASDAQ has been working with biotech companies for over five decades.”
Current CEO Dr Joan Huaqiong Shen joined I-Mab in September 2017, initially assuming the position of president of R&D and director before being appointed CEO in October 2019. Her career journey has been remarkably diverse: a US board-certified physician, she advanced her pharmaceutical career at Eli Lilly and Pfizer before moving to China’s largest pharmaco, Jiangsu Hengrui, to build their clinical team virtually from scratch, followed by two years with Janssen. This comprehensive view of both global and China pharma markets will no doubt serve her well in her leadership of I-Mab during the next stage of their development, which the company has fittingly termed ‘I-Mab 2.0’.
[Our CD-47 asset, TJC4] is a great example of our in-house innovation
I-Mab has defined two distinct portfolios: a lower-risk, fast-to-market China pipeline built around in-licensed assets with established Phase I/II clinical data demonstrating solid safety and efficacy profiles; and an in-house developed Global pipeline with innovative biologics, which they aim to validate clinically in the US initially before fast-tracking their clinical development in China.
Within the latter portfolio, CEO Dr Shen is most excited about their proprietary CD-47 asset, TJC4. She enthused, “[this] is a great example of our in-house innovation. This is one of the hottest targets right now after PD-1/PD-L1 but the first wave of clinical-stage CD47 antibodies bound to red blood cells to cause significant adverse effects like severe anemia. Our CD-47 asset is unique because it has been designed to minimize this binding and therefore reduce the side effects. It is currently in Phase I in both the US and China, and we should have our Phase I single-agent safety profile from our US trial by mid- or third quarter of 2020.”