HONG KONG – SK Bioscience Ltd.’s shares soared as much as 30% in their KOSPI board debut on Thursday.

The 22.95 million shares on offer opened at ₩130,000 (US$115.08) and were trading at ₩169,000 by the close of the trading day, raising ₩1.5 trillion, or $1.33 billion. SK Bioscience had priced the shares at the top of the ₩49,000 to ₩65,000 range.

“The funds from the public offering will be used to develop new pipelines such as mRNA platforms and immune enhancers, expand the basic vaccine portfolio and develop partnerships with foreign governments as well as state-run organizations,” a company spokesman told BioWorld.

The funds will also be used for expansion of research institutes and production facilities for additional contract manufacturing organization projects, such as biomedical products.

NH Investment & Securities Co. and Mirae Asset Daewoo Securities Co. were the underwriters for the deal.

Investors were willing to take a chance on Seoul, South Korea-based SK Bioscience, which helped drive shares to the best opening day on the bourse since global electric vehicle parts supplier Myoung Shin Industry’s record set in December 2020. The SK Bioscience offering is also reportedly the largest IPO since mobile game developer Netmarble’s ₩2.7 trillion listing in May 2017.

Two other South Korean companies developing AI medical solutions are prepping IPOs of their own, adding to what is shaping up to be a busy 2021 for the country’s IPO market.

Rokit Healthcare Inc. is hoping to list 12 million shares by July or August 2021, with Mirae and KB Securities Co. Ltd. serving as organizers. Lunit Inc., which uses AI to develop cancer diagnostics and therapeutics is preparing its own listing for later in 2021. The company had been prepping for a $25 million series D financing at the end of 2020, after it raised ₩30 billion in a series C funding in January 2020.

Another recent IPO of note is Vuno Inc.’s ₩37.8 billion listing at the end of February 2021. The company, which develops AI-based medical imaging solutions, priced its 1.8 million new shares at ₩21,000, above the target ₩15,000 to ₩19,500 range.

Spun off in July 2018 from SK Chemicals, which still holds a 68.4% stake, SK Biosciences develops and manufactures vaccines. Fellow SK Group affiliate SK Biopharmaceutical Co. Ltd. raised ₩959.30 billion in its own July 2020 listing.

A likely priority for the funds raised is the manufacturing of two COVID-19 vaccines as South Korea prepares to roll out its inoculation program. The company in August 2020 inked a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) agreement for Novavax Inc.’s candidate NVX-CoV2373. It further signed a licensing agreement with Novavax, and a vaccine supply agreement with Korea’s CDC, to independently manufacture and supply NVX-CoV2373 in South Korea.

The company also signed a separate CMO agreement for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Astrazeneca plc and the University of Oxford in July 2020. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) granted a marketing authorization for the shot to be administered to individuals aged 18 and older, including adults aged 65 and up in February 2021.

SK Bioscience also received MFDS’s IND to begin phase I trials for its own COVID-19 candidate NBP2001 on Nov. 24, 2020, with Seoul National University Hospital participating in the development process. The trials will assess in vivo safety and immunogenicity on healthy adults at Seoul National University Hospital and Bundang Seoul National University Hospital.

The company is also developing a second COVID-19 vaccine, GBP510, in collaboration with the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design, which is currently in phase I/II trials.

GBP510, was selected as the target of support for Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)’s ‘Wave2’, or next-generation COVID-19 vaccine, development project. The vaccine was the first to be selected for the project, and will be supplied globally via the COVAX facility once developed.

SK Bioscience received up up to $14.2 million from CEPI in March 2021 to develop a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 variants using GBP510 as a platform, the company said. CEPI will also provide additional support of up to $12.5 million to advance GBP510 to the commercial manufacturing stage.

Currently in phase III trials is a pediatric enteritis vaccine being developed with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH. The company is also conducting phase II trials for a next-generation pneumococcal vaccine, jointly developed jointly with Sanofi Pasteur, in the U.S.

“In addition to the development of existing vaccines, we plan to secure new pipelines and platform technologies for preventive and therapeutic vaccines, and broaden our portfolio to the biopharmaceutical field,” the company said.