Jan 17, 2020
By Wang Fangqing
Chinese biotech start-up Antengene recently hired two former high-profile managers from its funding partner Celgene, now a Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) company. In a recent meeting in Shanghai, where Antengene is based, founder and chief executive Jay Mei spoke with The Pharma Letter about the hires and his vision for his company.
“In the pharma industry, you rarely see a business leader with specific knowledge in multiple myeloma (MM) as well as experiences in developed and emerging markets, but John has both,” Dr Mei said, referring to John Chin, Antengene’s chief business officer and former general manager at Celgene China. During his 15-year career with Celgene, Mr Chin helped launch and manage many Celgene drugs in the USA, Latin American and China, and one of them is the MM treatment Revlimid (lenalidomide).
Xpovio launch a priority
Mr Chin’s priority would be helping launch Karyopharm’s Xpovio (selinexor) in China. Xpovio in July gained Food and Drug Administration approval as a combined treatment with corticosteroid dexamethasone for patients suffering from relapsed refractory multiple myeloma. In May 2018, Karyopharm licensed the drug’s China and Macau rights to Antengene.
The drug is under bridging studies for safety and efficacy assessment in China, aiming for a New Drug Application (NDA) filing this year.
Mr Chin will also oversee the company’s global business development strategies. “John has deep connections in the pharma industry so he will be leading the efforts in expanding our global partnerships,” Dr Mei said.
He shrugged off concerns over the current US-China tension, which targets not only trade issues but also competitions in high tech industries such as biologics, might curb partnerships between US companies and Chinese companies.
“Governments all over the world welcome novel, high quality drugs. The point is respecting intellectual properties. We have clear understanding regarding IP ownership,” he said.
Another hire, Mark Alles, former Celgene CEO and now an independent director for Antengene, will offer the company insights and strategic advice, as well as introduce more robust governance practices as Antengene plans to have an IPO by the end of 2020, said Dr Mei.
Mr Alles is known for leading Celgene from a small local biotech in New Jersey to a major global biopharma. “His tremendous knowledge in leadership is very important for Antengene to grow to the next stage,” Dr Mei said.
It is not clear where Antengene will choose to go public, but Dr Mei said it is either Nasdaq or HKEX. “We are consulting investors active in the US, HK or both, trying to figure out which market will be suitable for us at the current stage,” he said.
Antengene will have the last funding round before the Initial Public Offering (IPO) right after the Chinese New Year.
A clinical stage company with the primary focus on oncology, Antengene has six small molecule assets in clinical studies at various stages. It has another six assets in preclinical research, and four of them are antibodies, including two monoclonal antibodies and two bispecific antibodies (BsAbs). Dr Mei said he expected to see at least one antibody asset file an Investigational New Drug (IND) application in late 2020 or early 2021.
Right now, Antengene uses Wuxi - one of its investors - as the clinical supplier. But the company recently completed a $20 million manufacturing facility in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, furnished for GMP standards. The facility is scheduled to start operation in mid-2020 initially for small molecule drugs manufacturing. In the future, the facility will also supply biologics and possibly cell-based therapies, said Dr Mei.
A trendy research area, BsAbs have gained much attention recently. Antengene’s rival Shanghai-based I-Mab Biopharma, for example, which will ring the bell in Nasdaq on Jan 17 to raise about $100 million through its IPO, also has two BsAbs in preclinical studies.
Acknowledging BsAbs’ huge potential, Dr Mei also pointed out the challenges.
“Not all BsAbs are created equal and each one is unique. You have to find the right molecule targets and the optimal dose which shows manageable safety profile as well as efficacy,” he said.
So far, the US FDA has only approved one BsAb - Amgen’s (Nasdaq: AMGN) Blincyto (blinatumomab) - as a second line treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
A scientist who he himself spent about a decade of his career with Celgene, Dr Mei is proud that Antengene shared Celgene’s innovative gene. “We started from small molecules, expand to antibodies and people shouldn’t be surprised to see us trying other novel therapies,” he said.