Chinese biotech firm Ascletis first to apply for Hong Kong IPO under new rules 

Hangzhou-based Ascletis says its close to launching the hepatitis C treatment Danoprevir by September 30

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 9:25am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 9:07pm

Ascletis Pharma, which is close to commercialising a new drug for hepatitis C in China, has become the first biotechnology firm to file for an IPO in Hong Kong following recent reforms that allow biotech firms without profit or revenue to list. 

The Hangzhou-based company expects to launch “Danoprevir”, the first hepatitis C cure developed by a mainland Chinese firm by September 30, it said in a preliminary listing prospectus published on bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing’s website late on Monday. 

It has “demonstrated a far higher cure rate of 97 per cent, a shorter treatment duration of 12 weeks and a superior safety and tolerability profile”, the document said, adding that current drugs such as pegylated interferon and ribavirin have a success rate of about 60 per cent that takes between 48 and 72 weeks to treat. 

Ascletis has completed phase three clinical trials and applied to regulators for the drug to be launched. 

When combined with Ravidasvir, another drug that is also close to commercialisation by the firm, the cure rate rises to 99 per cent, it added. 

The company is also developing treatments for HIV and liver cancer. 

Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis and liver cancer in China where some 1.82 per cent of the population was infected in 2017. 

Some 350,000 new infections were recorded last year, but “as a result of the lack of breakthrough therapies”, only about 74,000 patients were treated, Ascletis said. 

The company booked a net loss of 131.85 million yuan (US$20.7 million) last year on revenue of 9 million yuan. In 2016, it posted a loss of 6.76 million yuan with revenue of 59.4 million yuan. 

Ascletis exclusively licensed Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche’s know-how five years ago to develop, produce and commercialise Danoprevir in the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. 

Ascletis has so far received US$26.5 million – of up to US$31 million in total potential payment – from Roche after reaching certain development milestones as agreed under the deal. 

In return, Ascletis will pay Roche tiered royalties “in the mid-single digits” based on net sales of the drug. 

Ascletis has also exclusively licensed San Francisco-based Presidio Pharmaceuticals’ Ravidasvir, on which the latter is entitled to receive US$17 million, of which US$6.5 has been paid by Ascletis. 

Ascletis will also pay royalties from “mid-single digits to low-teens” based on net sales. 

Founder and chief executive Wu Jinzi told the South China Morning Post in January that it was considering a third round of private fundraising that could exceed US$100 million, after raising US$155 million in previous two rounds. 

Founded in 2011, Ascletis raised US$100 million last year through a private share sale led by C-Bridge, a mainland-focused health care fund backed by mainland pharmaceutical firms and other institutional investors. 

Goldman Sachs and Qianhai Equity Investment Fund have also invested in the fund.  

In 2015, Ascletis raised US$55 million from Goldman and C-Bridge. 

Morgan Stanley, Goldman and China Merchants Securities are the joint sponsors of Ascletis’ planned initial public offering.