Last bet on COVID-19 vaccine success
The largest financing round in November was by Abogen Biosciences, which closed a $300 million Series C+ round. The three-year-old mRNA-focused startup has raised a total of $1.1 billion to date, breaking financing records in China’s biotech space.
Dozens of investors in the primary market have betted on Abogen out of the fear of missing out. They hope that ARCoV, which Abogen developed with China's Institute of Military Medicine under the Academy of Military Sciences and Walvax Biotechnology, will be the first mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to win approval in China.
Abogen said the new funds will help accelerate the clinical development of its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate to take it abroad faster. The startup is also looking to upgrade its mRNA technology platform and expand its pipeline and manufacturing capability to prepare for commercialisation.
In November, Abogen obtained certification from Jiangsu regulators to manufacture mRNA vaccines. ARCoV is now in the phase IIIb stage, nearing the finish line.
That said, COVID-19 vaccine makers have begun to lose luster in the stock market on the promise of anti-COVID drugs. COVID-19 vaccine stocks are slipping. Some even traded lower than the IPO price. It is too soon to say if investors have made the right bet before Abogen’s vaccine starts to generate revenue.
More money in CNS specialists
Chinese investors have shown a greater interest in the CNS space in the second half of this year as they continue to invest in more companies. On average, there were three financing rounds in the CNS space each month over the past two months, up from only one each month during the first half of the year.
The amount raised also reflects investors’ keen interest. SIMR Biotech raised $30 million in a series B+ round in October, a record soon broken by Ignis Therapeutics with a $180 million series A round in November. Both SIMR Biotech and Ignis are CNS specialists.
Ignis adopts a business model that combines capital with professional management and in-licensed products, which is obviously designed to launch CNS drugs faster on the China market. CStone Pharmaceuticals and Jixing Pharmaceuticals also adopt similar business models. CStone, for example, already has two marketed oncology drugs since its establishment six years ago.
According to data from Menet, the annual prescription volume of CNS drugs in local hospitals has exceeded 100 billion in 2020. Many CNS diseases remain without treatment.
Ignis has licensed in six compounds from SK Biopharmaceuticals, which launched a successful IPO in 2020. Gaining investors’ support, the South Korean biotech’s share price rose 30% on its first trading day, then another 30% on the second day.
SK Biopharmaceuticals’ two core products, cenobamate and solriamfetol, have been approved by the FDA and the EMA. Both have been licensed in by Ignis to develop and commercialize them in China.
Cenobamate, branded as Xcopri in the U.S. and Ontozry in the EU, is a medication used for the treatment of partial-onset seizures. Meanwhile, solriamfetol, marketed as SUNOSI, was approved for excessive daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea in adult patients by the FDA in 2019.
Both drugs could be launched in China after Ignis completes a bridging study and a phrase III trial, given that cenobamate and solriamfetol have already been approved in several countries. Last year, SK Biopharmapeuticals submitted an IND application to China’s CDE.
Eileen Long, a former general manager of Sanofi China’s CNS business unit, has been named Ignis’ CEO. Long has a proven track record in the CNS business in China. During her time at Sanofi, Depakine became the bestselling epilepsy drug in China.