SHANGHAI – Small-molecule oncology drug developer, Ascentage Pharma Group, of Taizhou, Zhejiang, has raised ¥500 million (US$72 million) from Future Industry Investment Fund, a private equity fund managed by China’s State Development & Investment Corporation Fund Management Corp. Ltd. (SDIC).
Other investors joining the round include Shiyu Capital, Hidragon Capital and Founder KIP Capital, along with previous investors Yuanming Capital, Oriza Venture Fund and Efung Capital. In 2015, Ascentage’s series A round raised $15.5 million from investors. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 19, 2015.)
Ascentage has eight assets with six clinical programs in development in the U.S., China and Australia. Last week, the firm said its apoptosis candidate, APG-1252, a Bcl-2/Bcl-XL inhibitor for cancer, was given IND approval by the FDA, while in China, the IND application was accepted by the CFDA.
The Taizhou-based biotech started with an oncology focus but has expanded its therapeutic areas to cover hepatitis B, dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and aging-related senolytic therapy through a collaboration with Unity Biotechnology. (See BioWorld Today, May 4, 2016.)
Ascentage is a spin-off from Ascenta Therapeutics Inc., of Malvern, Pa. In 2009, a trio of Chinese-born former executives, Dajun Yang, Ming Guo and Shaomeng Wang, moved on the chance to take over Ascenta’s Shanghai labs.
Also formed in 2009 was the government-run private equity fund SDIC, which manages ¥50 billion from dozens of institutional investors such as China’s National Social Security Fund, State Development & Investment Corporation, provincial investment corporations and listed companies. SDIC has shown an increasing interest in financing innovation in the biopharma space.
“SDIC is actively seeking to fund advanced technologies with solid commercialization potential,” said Simon Dazhong Lu, managing director of SDIC Fund Management. “We view health care as a key area for investing, of which biopharma is of pivotal importance.”
The deal shows that Chinese investors remain bullish on biotech, especially as other sectors of the economy, such as property and manufacturing, continue to cool.
“We could have raised more this round,” Dajun Yang, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Ascentage, told BioWorld Today. “But we did not want to dilute too much. We raised what we need for the next two to three years. We are thrilled to see significantly increasing support from Chinese government for the biopharmaceutical sector.” Yang noted those investors will widen the opportunities for collaborative partnerships in China.
U.S. IPO THIS YEAR
Yang said Ascentage is in the planning process of preparing an IPO in the U.S. for 2017. The company has been invited to speak at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Investment Conference in San Francisco next week and is in talks with several investment banks.
The series B financing will go toward advancing in the clinic the firm’s pipeline of small molecules that target apoptosis pathways, split between the cost of clinical development in the U.S and the rest in China.
Ascentage has been pursuing protein-protein interactions, although it is relatively rare to do given the complexity it brings to drug design. In the case of APG-1252, it was designed to avoid on-target toxicity in platelets when Bcl-XL gets inhibited. Bcl-2 is recognized as a driving oncogene in most blood cancers, whereas the Bcl-XL protein is a promising target particularly in solid tumors. APG-1252 has the best-in-class potential for the treatment of solid tumors with high expression of both Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL.
“Targeting Bcl-2 family proteins for treating cancer has been recognized for more than 30 years but has proven to be extremely challenging. However, the recent regulatory approval of venetoclax (ABT-199, GDC-0199) for marketing has provided a solid clinical validation for this therapeutic strategy,” said Yang.
Venetoclax, branded Venclexta, won early approvals last year in both the U.S. and Europe for treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who exhibit the 17p deletion. It’s marketed by North Chicago-based Abbvie Inc. (See BioWorld Today, April 13, 2016, and Oct. 17, 2016.)
In addition to Bcl-2/Bcl-XL, the Ascentage pipeline includes inhibitors to a number of proteins, including IAP and MDM2-p53, which regulate a tumor cell’s programmed cell death program, and second- and third-generation kinase inhibitors that overcome mutant resistance in cancer therapy and inhibitors of epigenetics.
Ascentage has also acquired a greenfield site in the Suzhou Industrial Park to establish cGMP drug manufacturing for phase III trial quantities and eventual commercialization.