Jan 31, 2020
By Eric Ng
Chinese cancer drugs developer Antengene is eying a stock market listing in Hong Kong this year to fund the China commercial launch of its lead compound ATG-010, ongoing clinical development programs partly aimed at plugging a treatment gap for cancers particularly prevalent among Asians.
The Shanghai-based company is one of the very few among dozens of start-ups founded in recent years by mainland Chinese returnees, in this very case, a clinical physician who spent decades in the academia and careers in large drug companies in the United States.
They are taking advantage of rising unmet demand for newer and more effective drugs from an aging population, policy reform that sped up clinical trials and new drugs approval, as well as allocation of more insurance funds to pay for them.
Cancers with disproportionally high prevalence among Chinese - such as liver, nasopharynx, stomach, bile duct and certain types of blood cancers – is an area that have attracted them and their backers.
“In the past, more treatments have been developed for diseases with higher prevalence rates in the western world compared to those more common among Asians,” Antengene founder, chairman and CEO Dr. Jay Mei said in an interview with the Post at the sidelines of the JP Morgan healthcare conference in San Francisco.
Dr. Mei speaking at the JP Morgan healthcare conference in San Francisco
“This is changing, as living and healthcare standards in parts of China and Asia are approaching those in western nations, more resources are made available.”
He is a former executive director of Celgene, which was acquired last year by New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb in the world’s largest pharmaceutical combination. He was responsible for the New Jersey-based firm’s global clinical development.
Prior to joining the industry – with stints also at Novartis and Johnson & Johnson - Mei spent eight years as an oncology researcher at the US National Cancer Institute.
With the support of Celgene as a founding partner and minority shareholder, he set up Antengene in April 2017.
Antengene that year licensed from Celgene the right to conduct in Greater China, South Korea and Southeast Asia clinical development and commercialization on a drug candidate for liver cancer, lymphoma, non-small cell lung cancer and various solid tumors.
A phase two trial for treatment of hepatitis B positive hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients in various provinces in mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea is ongoing.
HCC accounts for around 80 per cent of all liver cancer cases, and around the same proportion of all cases were attributed to chronic hepatitis B in China and most of Asia. Over half of HCC cases worldwide are reported from China.
Antengene in 2018 also licensed from Massachusetts-based Karyopharm development and marketing rights in mainland China, Macau and ASEAN countries of 4 clinical stage assets, including the drug selinexor, for treating multiple cancers.
The first China registration trial involving around 82 multiple myeloma participants is ongoing, while the second China registration trial on relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma has been kicked off.
The oral drug was approved for marketing to relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma patients in the US last year.
Antengene Monday received approval from Chinese authorities to start a phase 1b clinical study on selinexor as a potential treatment for T-cell and NK/T-cell lymphoma which is much more prevalent among East Asia than in western nations.
Antengene is targeting a series C round shortly after Chinese New Year, followed by an IPO towards the end of this year. The company closed a US$ 21 million series A in Aug. 2017 led by Qiming Venture. Antengene also closed a US$ 120 million series B in Jan. 2019 co-led by Boyu Capital and Fountain Vest, and joined by other industry heavyweights such as Celgene (now part of BMS), WuXi AppTec, and Tigermed. Asked its criteria for a listing venue selection, Mei said: “There is no perfect market, each has its unique strength. Hong Kong’s strength lies in its access to international, Chinese and other Asian investors, which is unique and what made it suitable for Antengene.”