HONG KONG – South Korean biotech venture Crystal Genomics Inc., based in Seongnam City, Gyeonggi-do, said it signed a memorandum of understanding for a strategic partnership with Bellevue Asset Management AG, a global asset manager headquartered in Küsnacht, Switzerland.

Operating under Swiss financial boutique Bellevue Group AG, Bellevue Asset Management manages about CHF9 billion (US$9.2 billion) specializing in bio-health care investment. Through its investment team, BB Biotech AG, the Swiss asset manager provides fund in the fields of medicine, biochemistry and biology. Based on the partnership, Crystal Genomics will participate in the Bellevue Asset Management's funds as a limited partner (LP), though the amount of its investment has not been disclosed.

"Crystal Genomics will have rights to review the companies' information in the fund portfolios operated by Bellevue," a spokeswoman at Crystal Genomics told BioWorld. "We expect to see the analytical information on promising biopharmaceutical firms, new drug candidates, and technologies in the early stage of investment. Also, using Bellevue's network, we will have opportunities for licensing deals or M&As with the companies in the funds. We will review a broad range of promising drug candidates and technologies."

The Korean biotech plans to carry out open innovations with the investee companies to strengthen its corporate value, and if vast funding is required, it will form partnerships with financial investors.

The contract between the two parties will be signed in late August or early September. More details of the partnership will be decided then, the spokeswoman said.

Investment history

For more than 25 years, Bellevue has actively invested in the biopharmaceutical sector through its professional teams. BB Biotech, one of the world's largest investors in the fast-growing market of biotechnology, operates various portfolios investing in global biotechs, including Ionis Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Carlsbad, Calif., and Neurocrine Biosciences Inc., of San Diego.

BB Healthcare Trust plc, the asset manager's equity investment team, invests in listed or quoted global health care companies. Those firms include 3D medical device producer Align Technology Inc., of San Jose, Calif., the U.S. and genetic variation developer Illumina Inc., of San Diego.

Bellevue's BB Adamant Healthcare Index, which is made up of 40 listed health care companies worldwide, contains stocks of biopharmaceutical firms, including Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc., of San Diego, Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen Inc. and Gilead Sciences Inc., of Foster City, Calif.. The index is calculated by Standard & Poor's, based on the equity securities selected by Bellevue.

The partnership with Crystal Genomics is the Swiss asset manager's second strategic investment partnership in Asia. Bellevue Asset Management partnered with Taiwanese-based Shin Kong Investment Trust Co. Ltd., the asset management subsidiary of Shin Kong Financial Holding Co. Ltd., to launch a health care investment fund in 2014. Bellevue Asset Management is an investment adviser to the Taiwan-domiciled fund.

Leading Korean biotech

As leading biotech in Korea, Crystal Genomics has developed Acelex (polmacoxib), a new drug to treat osteoarthritis. In 2016, the treatment was licensed out to Turkish biopharmaceutical company Trpharm Ilac Sanayi Tic AS, of in Istanbul, for commercialization and distribution in Turkey and 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. The license fee was $12 million for up-front and milestone payments. The Korean company also signed an export agreement last year with Apsen Farmacêutica, a Brazilian pharmaceutical firm based in Sao Paulo, to market Acelex in Brazil, in a deal worth $178 million.

Based on its structural chemoproteomics R&D, the Korean biotech has nine candidates, including analgesic anti-inflammation drugs for acute and chronic pain, neuropathic pain and inflammation, and inflammatory bowel disease; anti-infective drugs for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus; and clinical-stage molecularly targeted cancer drugs for pancreatic cancer, myelodysplastic syndromes and acute myeloid leukemia, hepatocellular carcinoma, leukemia and lymphoma.

One of the drug candidates for leukemia and lymphoma, CG-806, was out-licensed to Canadian pharmaceutical company Aptose Biosciences Inc., of Toronto, for drug development and commercialization in China. The total value of that deal was $125 million, including an up-front payment.

"Crystal Genomics has been undervalued given its technology and business potential. The company is one of the few Korean biotechs that has launched a new drug, secured platform technology, and has partnerships with other companies," Byeong-yong Oh, an analyst at Taurus Investment and Securities Co. Ltd., told BioWorld.

On Aug. 16, Crystal Genomics' (KRX: 083790) stock closed at KRW12,600 (US$10.4).

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