HONG KONG – JW Therapeutics (Shanghai) Co. Ltd. raised $90 million in a series A financing for the development of its first CD19-directed investigational cancer therapy, JWCAR-029. Investors include prominent names such as Singapore-based Temasek, Sequoia Capital China and Yuanming Capital.

In April 2016, Juno Therapeutics Inc., of Seattle, partnered up with Shanghai-based contract research service platform Wuxi Apptec to create a startup focused on cell-based immunotherapy, JW Therapeutics. Although JW is not considered a traditional joint venture, the two parties have an equal ownership of the company, which aims to deliver breakthrough cancer treatments in China. (See BioWorld Today, April 11, 2016.)

CAR T therapies are cancer treatments primarily for blood cancers like leukemia. JWCAR-029 is being developed to treat B-cell malignancies, initially focusing on relapsed and refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

"JWCAR-029 is a product based on Juno's technology and developed at JW Therapeutics," Wenjun Sun, vice president of business development at JW Therapeutics, told BioWorld Asia. "JWCAR-029 has the potential to be a best-in-class product in CD19 CAR T candidates, and the company plans to bring it through clinical phases under the China Food and Drug Administration [CFDA] guidance."

The company initiated the development of JWCAR-029 with the support from Juno (now part of Celgene Corp.) and Wuxi Apptec, by leveraging the former's CAR T-cell receptor (TCR) technologies, and the latter's local expertise as well as its R&D and manufacturing platform. JWCAR-029 has entered a phase I study in China upon CFDA's acceptance of the investigational new drug application.

Other investors of the series A funding include Chinese investors Oriza Seed Capital, Yipu Capital and Avict Global Holdings.

"With the top tier investors in [the] series A, JW Therapeutics not only has access to capital but also the unique strategic values they bring collectively to support the growth of the company," said Wenjun Sun.

"Besides advancing the clinical studies of JWCAR-029, we will also build a commercial manufacturing facility," he added. "The funds will help JW Therapeutics to further develop a scalable and robust process, analytical methods and quality control, GMP commercial manufacturing site, advancing clinical trials, and continuing to build a strong team to bring JWCAR-029 to commercialization."

To facilitate the development, the company has built a clinical GMP facility in line with global QMS standards and established a team of experts.

Ge Li, CEO of Wuxi Apptec and co-founder of JW Therapeutics, said the Chinese government's regulatory reforms are expected to drive growth and demand for quality medicines that target major unmet medical needs in the country.

"Wuxi invested in Juno Therapeutics early on and formed the joint venture with Juno Therapeutics to bring its CAR T products to China for the benefits of Chinese patients," Liyun Sun, senior PR specialist at Wuxi Apptec, told BioWorld Asia. "We hope to bring Juno's innovative cutting-edge products to the market to benefit Chinese patients."

A report from Cohere Market Insights noted that the global market for CAR T therapy is expected to reach $8.5 billion by 2028, and China is one of the most important markets.

By October 2017, there were 121 Chinese CAR T trials registered or reported on ClinicalTrials.gov, and those are mainly carried out in leading hospitals from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing. However, a study, titled "Clinical trials of CAR-T cells in China," states that it is possible that the number of institutions carrying out CAR T trials would increase at slower pace once related regulatory policies are in place.

JW's new investors include Singaporean investment company Temasek, which has a portfolio covering a broad spectrum of industries, including life sciences and financial services. The company was managing a SGD275 billion (US$209.1 billion) portfolio mainly in Singapore and the rest of Asia, as of March 2017.

Sequoia China, meanwhile, has more than 46 years of experience in investing in sectors such as health care, consumer, and industrial technology. Yuanming Capital, on the other hand, is a health care specialty fund, focused on the investment in pharmaceutical research and development, innovative medical devices and high-end medical services in both China and the U.S.