Asia-Pacific is now establishing itself as a global innovation hub, with China, Japan, and Korea leading the space in overall innovative pipeline assets in the region. The life sciences industry is thriving, and there has been a shift in the region from predominantly producing generics to developing innovative technologies, with several Asia-Pacific biotech companies leading the way in this area.
In fact, in the last 10 years, the Asia-Pacific region has become a particular hotspot for clinical trials, with the region contributing almost 50% of new clinical trial activity globally. This has been driven by its large patient population, lower risk of competing trials, government support, pragmatic regulatory processes, lower cost of conducting trials, and strategic importance of Asian markets.
So, with the recent rise of its biopharma industry, we take a closer look at 10 Asia-Pacific biotech companies helping to drive innovation in the region.
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Based in both Taiwan and the U.S., Acepodia is focused on transforming cancer treatment with first-in-class immune cell engagers that have enhanced and targeted potency thanks to the company’s Antibody-Cell Conjugation (ACC) platform. ACC is a tumor-targeting technology that links antibodies directly to gamma-delta T cells and natural killer (NK) cells in order to enhance their tumor killing ability without the need for genetic engineering. In addition to its potency benefits, the company says that ACC’s simplicity and modular “plug and play” nature could make cell therapies more accessible to patients, and allows for expansion into other indications beyond oncology and other immune cells.
The most advanced candidate in Acepodia’s pipeline – known as ACE1702 – is in phase 1 trials, and is an off-the-shelf oNK cell therapy conjugated with HER2 antibodies that overcomes the limitations of current cancer cell therapies by enhancing the innate ability of NK cells to target and destroy HER2-expressing tumors. HER2 is a highly expressed antigen in a variety of solid tumors including, breast, gastric, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.
In June this year, the Asia-Pacific biotech company managed to secure $100 million in series D funding. These funds will help to support the expansion and progress of Acepodia’s pipeline, including its candidates ACE1831 and ACE2016, which are antibody-armed allogeneic gamma delta T-cell therapies.
Based in Singapore, Albatroz Therapeutics is a biotech company developing therapeutic antibodies against a novel target that degrades the extracellular matrix (ECM). The target is a protein complex activated by a glycosylation pathway, which plays a vital role in the pathogenesis of two indications that Albatroz is currently focused on – solid tumors and arthritis.
This pathway was discovered by Albatroz’s chief executive officer (CEO) and scientific co-founder, Fred Bard. The study of this pathway then led to the discovery of the company’s novel target, which becomes exposed at the cell surface after glycosylation. Activation of this target occurs specifically in tumors and arthritic synovial membranes, connective tissue that lines the joint capsule. Therefore, Albatroz’s targeted antibodies have high specificity for this target, selectively reducing extracellular matrix degradation while also minimizing toxicity.
Earlier this year, Albatroz announced that it was the first Amgen ‘Golden Ticket’ recipient in Singapore. This meant that the company was awarded a one-year free residency in NSG Biolabs’ fully-equipped, turnkey, and certified BSL-2 laboratory, alongside additional facility benefits, and connections to Amgen’s scientific and business leaders.
Additionally, shortly after receiving the award, the company was also able to secure $3 million in a seed funding round.
Aravax was founded in 2015 in Melbourne, and is committed to developing the first safe, convenient, and disease-modifying treatment for peanut allergy, using its proprietary platform technology to precisely reset the immune system to tolerate allergens, without provoking severe reactions during treatment.
Its drug candidate is called PVX108 and is an immunotherapy that aims to reset immune balance among Treg cells and Th2 cells, which are regulatory and proinflammatory T cells that tend to be present in varied, unbalanced amounts in the case of allergies.
So far, PVX108 has been studied in two phase 1 studies. Both of these studies demonstrated that PVX108 was safe and well tolerated in participants with peanut allergy, including participants with asthma. Biomarker and immunological studies also demonstrated directional immunological changes that are relevant to the induction of tolerance to peanut protein.
Now, the drug candidate is being studied in a double-blind, randomized phase 2 trial in adolescents and children with peanut allergies, and received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) green light for its investigational new drug (IND) application last year. Meanwhile, it also raised $20 million in a series B round in December last year.
China-based Atom Bioscience is working on the development of best-in-class orally delivered small molecule drugs for the treatment of inflammatory and metabolic diseases, such as chronic gout and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), for which there are currently no effective treatments.
Atom’s lead therapy, known as ABP-671, is intended to treat chronic gout, and, according to the company, it is more potent and significantly less toxic than existing drugs. It is an orally administered urate transporter 1 (URAT1) – which are proteins that are involved in the reabsorption of uric acid by the kidneys – inhibitor. Last month, the company announced that it had dosed the first patient in a phase 2b/3 clinical trial of ABP-671.
Meanwhile, another compound the company is developing, ABP-6016, has demonstrated safety and efficacy in preclinical trials for NASH, which is projected to become the most common cause of liver disease.
Just last month, the Asia-Pacific company announced that it had raised $83 million in a series D round, in what was one of the biggest private biotech investments in October. The proceeds from this will be used to complete the global pivotal trials of its gout drug candidate.
Based in South Korea, Cyrus Therapeutics is looking to drug undruggable targets using small molecules and new chemical modalities, with a vision of ultimately discovering and developing innovative medicines to conquer chronic or life-threatening diseases with high unmet needs.
The company’s small molecules target immunosuppression in tumors, administered as both a monotherapy and as a combination therapy with other cancer therapies in order to improve their efficacy. Alongside this, Cyrus is applying synthetic lethality – which occurs when mutations in two genes lead to cell death, unlike a mutation in just one gene – in scoping drug targets for patients with BRCA1/2 mutation. This means that identifying inactive genes in cancer cells and targeting the other in the pair can be an effective treatment for certain cancers.
The Asia-Pacific biotech company currently has seven drug candidates in its pipeline, with its lead candidate – a molecular glue degrader – still in preclinical development for hematologic cancer.
Chinese biopharma company BioRay Pharmaceuticals developing novel-antibody therapeutics with a full suite of end-to-end capabilities in China, focusing on discovering, developing, manufacturing and commercializing medicines for the treatment of immune-mediated diseases and cancer. The company claims that it has a leading position in China’s autoimmune biologics market and has prospects for international expansion.
BioRay already has six approved products on the market in China, including Anruize a biosimilar anti-HER2 treatment, Anruixi, a human-mouse chimeric monoclonal antibody targeting CD20 for CD20+ diffuse large B cell lymphoma, and Anshuzheng, an oral small molecule targeting JAK inhibitors to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The company also has multiple candidates in Biologics License Applications or phase 3 trial stage, and more than 10 pipeline drugs in phase 2 trial stage or earlier.
In January, the company also bagged the biggest private biotech investment of the month in the Asia-Pacific healthcare sector, after receiving a $218 million investment to bankroll its drug development and manufacturing capabilities.
Heartseed is based in Tokyo, Japan, and is aiming to treat cardiovascular disease using regenerative medicines. The Asia-Pacific biotech company’s lead candidate is called HS-001, which is a cell therapy consisting of clusters of cardiomyocyte spheroids – purified heart muscle cells – derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), designed to restore heart muscle and function.
In February this year, Heartseed and Novo Nordisk, who first formed a partnership in 2021 for HS-001, said they had dosed the first patient in a phase 1/2 clinical study of HS-001, whereby the therapy will be transplanted into the diseased heart tissue during open-heart surgery in conjunction with a planned coronary artery bypass graft procedure.
Meanwhile, in one of May’s largest private biotech investments, Heartseed managed to raise $14 million in series D funding, with the proceeds going towards the completion of the phase 1/2 HS-001 trial. This investment round brought the company’s total funding to approximately $74 million.
Immuneel Therapeutics Private Limited
Immuneel Therapeutics is on a mission to make cell therapies both affordable and accessible to people living in India and offer hope to cancer patients in the country. Its reason for doing so is because CAR-T cell therapies are generally very expensive, and are also mostly only available in wealthier countries.
In June last year, the Asia-Pacific biotech company announced that it had raised $15 million in series A financing. At the same time, it also said it had begun patient dosing in what was the first industry sponsored CAR-T phase 2 trial in India, called IMAGINE. And, in December last year, it was reported that the early results from the trial demonstrated 77% overall response rate at the 90th day in patients with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Furthermore, Immuneel has exclusive rights to the CAR-T cell therapy, known as ARI-0001/IMN-003A, from Hospital Clínic de Barcelona and Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer in Spain, to develop, manufacture and commercialize in India via technology transfer. ARI-0001 has already been approved by the Spanish Drug Agency (AEMPS).
Neurophth Therapeutics is one of China’s leading gene therapy companies for ophthalmic diseases. In early 2023, Neurophth’s leading candidate, known as NR082, for the treatment of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), marked a historic milestone as the first gene therapy drug to complete patient enrollment for a phase 3 trial in China. The company also concluded the enrollment of the first patient for phase 1/2 clinical trials in the U.S.
Meanwhile, NFS-02, which is the company’s second candidate, also happens to be the world’s sole gene therapy targeting Leber hereditary optic neuropathy caused by ND1 mutation (ND1-LHON). It is under development and has received IND approval from both the China National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) and the FDA. Currently, Neurophth is conducting a phase 1/2 clinical trial of the drug candidate, in which the first patient was dosed in August.
Furthermore, the company raised the biggest private biotech investment in the Asia-Pacific healthcare sector in August, with a $95 million series C+ investment to help advance clinical trials, enhance the company’s R&D capabilities, and expand its pipeline.
With the headquarter in Shanghai and a subsidiary company in Basel, Worg is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing new treatments for allergic and autoimmune diseases, with the ambition to extend its portfolio to other therapeutic areas of high unmet medical needs and considerable commercial potential.
The company is developing immunotherapies based on two technology platforms: PCFiT for patients with allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and allergic asthma, and Apitopes for patients with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Graves’ disease (GD), uveitis (UV), factor VIII inhibitors (F8), myocarditis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Worg’s most advanced candidate is WP1048, indicated for grass pollen allergy, which is composed of four PCFiT based recombinant antigens that have been designed to elicit IgG antibodies directed at four major grass pollen allergens. The candidate has undergone four phase 1/2 trials that have demonstrated preliminary evidence of clinical efficacy and safety.
In June, the Asia-Pacific company topped the healthcare biotech investment charts in the Asia-Pacific region after raising $152 million in a series C round.
Asia-Pacific’s biopharma industry: growth expected to continue
As well as becoming a hotspot for clinical trials, Asia-Pacific is also a top region in terms of its pharma industry, with China and Japan standing out in market size as the world’s second and third-largest pharmaceutical markets, respectively, valued at $152.79 billion and $82.67 billion.
In fact, Asia-Pacific’s pharmaceutical market is forecast to record 4.2% growth from 2022 to 2027, with China and Japan expected to continue dominating the market in terms of value.
With all of this in mind, there is reason to believe that there will also be continued growth and success within the biopharma industry in the Asia-Pacific region in the coming years, as the biotech companies on this list – as well as many others – help to drive innovation, developing therapies for numerous disease areas that could make a difference to people’s lives.