5 private biotech companies in China you should know about

China biotech companies

China has a thriving biotech venture capital scene, with firms bagging impressive cash in the last few years. In this article, we take a look at five private biotech companies that have raised major rounds in China.

China’s biotech industry has undergone a momentous shift in recent decades, evolving from a generics-focused space to a thriving biotech hub. This is largely thanks to the fact that, back in 2015, the Chinese government ushered in a slate of reforms that has since enabled the biopharma industry to thrive. 

One of the main changes in the country included regulators beginning to pilot the Marketing Authorization Holder system, which allows drug developers to use contract manufacturers instead of having to build costly in-house production or sell intellectual property to large firms. Furthermore, generic drugs were required to show bioequivalence to their reference branded products to improve the overall quality in this area, and China’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started to allow foreign clinical data to support applications. 

Some of the best-known biotech companies in China are listed players including BeiGene and Innovent Biologics. The nation is also host to a fleet of privately owned biotech firms that have raked in huge amounts in venture capital financing in the last couple of years. 

Table of contents

    Abogen Biosciences 

    Abogen Biosciences makes it on this list by virtue of an impressive $700 million series C round that it bagged in August 2021 – still one of the biggest-ever private biotech funding rounds. This was swiftly followed by another $300 million investment round in November 2021. 

    Abogen is one of the few biotech companies in China that has self-developed all of its key messenger RNA (mRNA) platform technologies, across mRNA synthesis, delivery, and manufacturing. Its mission is ultimately to develop therapies derived from mRNA technology, including immunotherapies for cancer, protein replacement therapies, and a vaccine against COVID-19, which is the company’s lead candidate. This vaccine was actually granted emergency use authorization (EUA) in Indonesia in 2022, making it the first China-made mRNA vaccine authorized for use.  

    Avistone Pharmaceuticals

    Avistone Pharmaceuticals turned heads in December 2021 with a series A round worth more than $200 million. The oncology firm used the proceeds to fund the takeover of another cancer-focused player called Pearl Biotechnology. More recently, in January 2024, Avistone announced the closing of a series B financing round worth around $140 million. The funds from this will be used to support clinical research and development of the Avistone pipeline, accelerate the screening of new molecules, support clinical studies and expansion in the U.S., and support the commercialization of its lead asset, PLB1001, in China.

    Avistone is developing a pipeline of small-molecule drugs for lung cancer, with its lead candidate in late-stage clinical trials for the treatment of specific, genetically-defined populations of patients with non-small cell lung cancer and glioblastoma. The drug blocks a protein called c-Met, whose dysregulation is linked to many types of solid tumors; other drugs blocking this target include the FDA-approved crizotinib and cabozantinib. It recently received conditional approval from the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) as a treatment for patients with MET exon 14 skipping non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in China.

    Hangzhou DAC Biotech 

    Also known as Hangzhou Duoxi Bio, Hangzhou DAC Biotech is one of relatively few biotech companies in China developing proprietary antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), a popular class of drugs in the oncology arena. After nine years of research and development, DAC Biotech has established a special ADC technology platform, with 30 ADC drugs in different development stages, ultimately becoming a leader in the ADC field.

    The company’s current lead clinical candidate is in phase 1 of development for the treatment of breast and gastric cancer. The firm is bankrolling its drug development with a $156 million series C round, which it closed in May 2021. Furthermore, in 2022, the company announced a collaboration and license agreement with Janssen for the development of novel ADCs. Under the terms of the collaboration, it was agreed that DAC Biotechnology would apply its ADC platform to Janssen’s proprietary antibodies, with the aim of developing novel ADC products against up to five targets. 

    Junshi Biosciences 

    Junshi Biosciences is developing an array of different medicines, having expanded from monoclonal antibodies to small molecule drugs, polypeptide drugs, ADCs, bispecific antibody or multispecific antibody drugs, nucleotide drugs, etc. These therapies are also being developed for several different disease areas, including cancer, autoimmune, metabolic, neurological, and infectious diseases. 

    The company already has an approved PD-1 inhibitor, called Tuoyi (toripalimab). It was the first homegrown PD-1/L1 to obtain an approval in China and was also the first China-made checkpoint inhibitor to win an FDA breakthrough designation. Plus, earlier this month, Junshi announced that the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) had approved the supplemental new drug application for toripalimab in combination with axitinib for the first-line treatment of patients with medium to high-risk unresectable or metastatic renal cell carcinoma. This is the first approved immunotherapy for renal carcinoma in China.

    Shanghai Innogen Pharmaceutical Technology 

    Founded in 2014, Shanghai Innogen Pharmaceutical Technology is dedicated to the research and development of innovative and affordable medicines for diabetes and other metabolic disease patients. In late 2021, the firm raised $120 million in venture financing to advance its fusion protein drug Efsubaglutide Alfa to phase 3 testing, in addition to pushing forward the rest of its pipeline.

    Efsubaglutide Alfa is designed to activate glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). This target promotes the secretion of insulin, a hormone vital for stopping blood sugar levels from getting too high. Insulin is either scarce or doesn’t work well in patients with type 2 diabetes. While there are a number of GLP-1 agonists on the market, such as Wegovy and Ozempic, Efsubaglutide Alfa is designed to last longer in the body than some of its competitors. In 2023, Innogen announced that the China Center for Drug Evaluation (CDE) accepted the company’s Biologics License Application for Efsubaglutide Alfa for the monotherapy treatment of type 2 diabetes with poor glycemic control after diet and exercise intervention, and for combination treatment of type 2 diabetes with poor glycemic control after metformin treatment.

    China: an expanding healthcare market

    The Chinese healthcare market is predicted to expand from around $900 billion in 2019 to $2.3 trillion in 2030, and its size is second only to that of the U.S. healthcare market. There is rapid growth in demand from an aging and increasingly affluent population and a supportive policy and regulatory environment in line with the national Healthy China 2030 initiative. However, there are some major hurdles that the country still needs to overcome. With 3.8 million doctors and 4.4 million nurses for a population of 1.4 billion, there is a shortfall of as many as 700,000 doctors and millions of nurses, compared to Western countries. Plus, rising costs must also be controlled.

    This article was originally published in June 2022 by Jonathan Smith and has since been updated by Willow Shah-Neville in April 2024.

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