There will shortly be a new Car-T therapy player on the Hong Kong stock exchange, and it is chaired by none other than Hans Bishop, the chief exec who sold Juno to Celgene. JW Therapeutics started out as a 50/50 joint venture between Juno and Wuxi Apptec, but will soon be floated in its own right, regulatory documents show.
Remarkably, given China’s burgeoning cell therapy sector, JW will become one of only a handful of such businesses to be publicly traded. And the proposed IPO will serve as a reminder of the draw of Mr Bishop, who is also behind the US cell therapy companies Sana Biotechnology and Lyell Immunopharma.
Sana and Lyell have already caused heads to turn, completing monster private financing rounds: $493m of series C money for Lyell in March, and a $700m initial raise by Sana that closed in the second quarter. These amounts came in spite of both groups’ relative secrecy as to what precisely they were working on.
It is still not clear how much JW wants to raise in its IPO, given that much of its prospectus, including the number of shares to be issued and their price range, has been redacted. This is pretty standard for Hong Kong exchange listings.
However, much is already known about the company. It was founded in 2016 as a venture between Juno and Wuxi, the aim being to license cell therapy candidates from Juno’s pipeline for local development, backed by Wuxi’s local knowledge and alliances (Juno looks east, April 8, 2016).
Two years later JW raised $90m in a series A that brought in new investors. JW’s IPO document reveals that most of the company’s Car-T pipeline is indeed derived from Juno assets, but with additional manufacturing tweaks, and this has been supplemented with deals with Eureka, Lyell and Acepodia.
For instance, the anti-BCMA asset JWCAR129 uses the same construct as the Juno-originated JCARH125 (orva-cel). That deal remains in place until 2026, and under it JW can continue licensing in Juno’s cell therapy projects even though ownership of that business has now moved via Celgene to Bristol Myers Squibb.
|JW Therapeutics's pipeline|
|Project||Target||Status||Derived from||Local competition?|
|Relma-cel (JWCAR029)||CD19||Filed in China||JCAR015 or JCAR017** (BMS ex Juno)||Fosun Kite, Novartis, Carsgen, Immunochina, Hrain, Galaxy, Shanghai Cell Therapy, Precicion Biotech, Huadao Car T, Juventas|
|JWCAR129||BCMA||Preclinical||JCARH125 (BMS ex Juno)||Legend, Carsgen, Hrain, Isao/Innovent|
|JWATM203||AFP (eTCR)||Preclinical||ET140202 (Eureka Therapeutics)||None|
|Unnamed*||CD22||Preclinical||JCAR018 (BMS ex Juno)||Unclear|
|Unnamed*||WT1 (eTCR)||Preclinical||JTCR016 (BMS ex Juno)||Unclear|
|Unnamed*||CD171 (L1CAM)||Preclinical||JCAR023 (BMS ex Juno)||Unclear|
|Unnamed*||Muc16||Preclinical||JCAR020 (BMS ex Juno)||Unclear|
|Unnamed*||Ror1||Preclinical||JCAR024 (BMS ex Juno)||Unclear|
|JWACE002*||Her2 (Car-NK)||Preclinical||ACE1702 (Acepodia)||Unclear|
|Note: *option not yet exercised; **not disclosed; eTCR=engineered T-cell receptor. Source: regulatory filing.|
The JW prospectus also reveals just how much potential competition there is in China for the company’s leading projects. 12 other groups are working locally on anti-CD19 and/or anti-BCMA Cars, for example.
The competitor space will remind investors just how much cell therapy work is ongoing in China. However, for now most of JW’s rivals, including Carsgen, Precision Biotech, Huadao Car T and Juventas, are privately owned.
The only other pure play cell therapy company with a Hong Kong listing appears to be Immunotech Biopharma. Shanghai Fosun and Innovent are listed locally, but their Car-T work derives from tie-ups with others, while Cellular Biomedicine Group and Legend Biotech opted for US flotations on Nasdaq.
It is not yet evident whether JW will achieve a valuation to rival Legend’s, but keeping Mr Bishop’s name prominent is bound to remain an important strategy towards achieving this goal.
|Selected Chinese groups with a presence in cell therapy|
|Company||Stock exchange||Market cap (USD)||Note|
|Shanghai Fosun||Hong Kong||$19.5bn||Car-T work derives from JV with Kite Pharma (now part of Gilead)|
|Innovent Biologics||Hong Kong||$8.8bn||Car-T work derives from deal with Iaso Biotherapeutics (private)|
|Legend Biotech||US||$4.1bn||Started as subsidiary of Genscript Biotech (listed)|
|Immunotech Biopharm||Hong Kong||$750m||Pure-play cell therapy|
|Cellular Biomedicine Group||US||$360m||Pure-play cell therapy|
|JW Therapeutics||Hong Kong*||Not yet known||Started as JV between Juno (now part of BMS) and Wuxi Apptec|
|Note: *listing planned. Source: company documents.|