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Week in Review: James Watson to Lead New Shenzhen Biopharma Research Center

publication date: Mar 24, 2018
author/source: Richard Daverman, PhD

Industry Developments

James Watson, who co-discovered the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953, will lead a new international life science research center in the International Bio Valley, located in Shenzhen's Dapeng New Area (see story). A groundbreaking ceremony was held last Friday with Dr. Watson in attendance. The new research center, which may be called the Watson Research Center of Life Science, will strive to find new, less expensive solutions to the problem of cancer and will be staffed by more than 1,000 scientists. 

Deals and Financings

Oxford Nanopore Technologies, a UK company that offers several portable real-time DNA/RNA sequencers, completed a $140 million funding led by Asian investors (see story). The investors were GIC (the Singapore sovereign wealth fund), China Construction Bank and Hostplus of Australia. Existing investors also participated. Oxford Nanopore will apply the funds to its continuing commercial expansion, including a manufacturing facility in Oxford. It is also expanding into larger lab-based sequencers. The company, which is already marketing in China, is opening a Shanghai office.   

TCR2 Therapeutics, a Boston immuno-oncology company, closed an oversubscribed $125 million Series B financing (see story). The round was co-led by 6 Dimension Capital, a Boston-Shanghai investor (formed by Frontline and WuXi Healthcare Ventures), along with Curative Ventures of Texas. TCR2 will use the funds to develop its novel T cell receptor cellular therapies for solid tumors and blood cancers. Specifically, TCR2 says the funds will be enough to complete human proof-of-concept of two TRuC™-T cell programs.   

CASI Pharma (NSDQ: CASI), a Maryland-Beijing company, announced a $50 million private placement, which it will use to launch its first commercial product in China and supply working capital (see story). Two months ago, CASI acquired a portfolio of 29 generic drug candidates from Sandoz, the generic drug division of Novartis (NYSE: NVS). CASI plans to select certain members of the portfolio to develop for China approval. 

Infervision of Beijing raised $47 million in a B+ round to support its AI-aided CT cancer scanning software (see story). So far, the company has developed two products, one for early detection of lung cancer and the other for detecting cardiothoracic lesions. Infervision says its products shorten the time a radiologist needs to read a scan while also increasing the accuracy of the readings. Participants in the funding were existing investors Sequoia Capital China, Qiming Venture Partners and Genesis Capital, along with new investors Xianghe Capital and Advantech Capital. 

Akonni Biosystems of Maryland and Righton, a China in vitro diagnostics company, announced a two-way commercial agreement (see story). In China, Righton will sell Akonni's nucleic acid purification and molecular diagnostic products to researchers, clinical laboratories and hospitals, while Akonni will acquire exclusive marketing rights to Righton's 28 molecular diagnostic products outside of China. As part of the agreement, Righton made a $7.5 million investment in Akonni's series D round, bringing the funding to $13.9 million.   

Fosun Pharma (SHA: 600196; HK: 02196) acquired China rights to an thrombocytopenia candidate from a subsidiary of Dova Pharma (NSDQ: DOVA), AkaRx (see story). Avatrombopag is an oral drug candidate for thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) in patients with chronic liver disease. In a US Phase III trial, avatrombopag met all primary endpoints, and Dova expects to hear whether the FDA will grant US approval of the drug by May 21, 2018 . The Fosun-Dova agreement includes an undisclosed upfront payment, milestone payments, and a fixed transfer price for product supplied. Fosun will also support additional indication applications for avatrombopag in China.   

Senju Pharma of Osaka in-licensed China and Japan rights to a potential treatment for diabetic macular edema (DME) from Montreal's SemaThera (see story). Senju also paired up with AmorChem L.P. to make a $2 million investment into SemaThera, which SemaThera will use to begin a clinical trial of the candidate, ST-102. To acquire the ST-102 rights, Senju agreed to pay milestones totaling up to "tens of millions" of dollars and a double-digit royalty on revenues.  

Trials and Approvals

Chugai Pharma (TYO: 4519) reported that the CFDA accepted its New Drug Application for eldecalcitol, an oral active vitamin D3 derivative for osteoporosis (see story). A Japanese pharma, Chugai is majority-owned (62%) by Roche (ROG: SIX). In a China Phase III trial, patients treated with eldecalcitol showed greater bone mineral density (BMD) compared to alfacalcidol-treated patients after 12 months. Chugai has marketed eldecalcitol in Japan since 2011.   

Avita Medical (ASX: AVH; OTCQX: AVMXY) of Melbourne has started a China clinical trial of ReCell® to treat second-degree (deep partial-thickness) burns (see story). ReCell is a device that harvests autologous cells, combines them with a proprietary enzyme formulation, and forms a spray to accelerate healing. The procedure, which takes about 30 minutes, does not require lab culturing. Compared to a skin graft, ReCell uses less skin from a patient. The China trial is supported by China's National Health and Planning Commission.   

Company News

Cellular Biomedicine (NSDQ: CBMG) will develop its stem cell and CAR-T projects exclusively in China, closing down its California operations (see story). The company said a combination of lower costs for clinical trials and a faster path to commercialization prompted the turn toward China. News of the change in its business plan came as CBMG reported early signs of success in a China Phase I trial of AlloJoin™, its off-the-shelf mesenchymal progenitor cell therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis (KOA). CBMG has operations in Shanghai and Cupertino, California 

Government and Regulatory

As part of an initiative to open its economy to other countries, China plans to eliminate tariffs on some imported drugs, especially those for cancer (see story). The move is aimed partly at China's own population, which struggles to pay the high prices of imported drugs. However, the proposed changes may be more symbolic than real cost-savers. According to one source, drugmakers pay a maximum of 6% as an import tax. If the exporting country has "most-favored nation" status (the US and other western countries are favored), the tax is just 2%.   

Disclosure: none.


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