Week in Review: Major Investments in China Biotech Companies

by: ChinaBio Today

China life science news last week was dominated by stories of substantial foreign investments in China’s pharmaceutical sector. The Swiss biopharma Novartis (NYSE:NVS) led the way, with nearly $1.4 billion in capital commitments to three separate initiatives in China. The company clearly feels that China represents growth – and Novartis has added significantly to its R&D, technical expertise, vaccine and marketing efforts there.

In its most spectacular investment, Novartis will begin a five-year, $1 billion China initiative with two aims: the company will dramatically increase its investment in its China R&D facility, and it will seek to make China one its top three markets worldwide (see story). The investment will increase the size of the company’s Shanghai R&D center from its current employee count of 160 to over 1,000 eventually. At that size, China will rank with Novartis’ R&D facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Only the company’s home research facility in Basel, Switzerland will be larger.

As if that was not enough, Novartis announced it would also spend $250 million to expand its global technical center in Changshu, and pay $125 million to buy a 85% stake in a privately held China vaccine company, Zhejiang Tianyuan (see story). Novartis’ interest in vaccines follows a worldwide trend. Zhejiang Tianyuan’s revenues doubled from 2006 to 2008, when they reached $25 million. Novartis is paying five times last-year’s revenues, showing that China vaccine companies are, at the moment, highly desirable.

Roche (OTCQX:RHHBY) opened a new $500 million biologics manufacturing facility in Singapore in the Tuas Biomedical Park (see story). The site contains two buildings, one dedicated to producing Lucentis, a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration, while the other will make Avastin, a targeted cancer therapy. Both projects were initiated by Genentech, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Roche.

Microbix (OTC:MBXBF) of Canada signed a joint venture agreement with the Hunan Biopharmaceutical Co. Ltd., a state-owned enterprise, to construct a large $200 million facility dedicated to flu vaccine production (see story). Hunan will contribute both land and early funding. The facility will be Asia's largest flu plant and the third largest vaccine facility in the world. Microbix and Hunan Biopharma will each own 50% of the JV. Microbix will contribute its patented technology, called Virusmax™, which doubles the production of flu vaccine.

On a much smaller scale, Biostar Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:BSPM) completed a private placement that raised $3.6 million in new capital (see story). Biostar will use the proceeds to complete its new raw materials processing facility. By taking its raw material production in-house, Biostar will lower costs and gain control over product quality. Biostar plans to sell excess raw materials to other pharmaceutical companies in the Shaanxi province.

There were other deals last week, though their value was not disclosed. Shenzhen Beike Biotechnology Co. agreed to invest in Biomaster Inc., a Japanese company focused on the use of adipose-based stem cells for plastic surgeries (see story). Beike and two investment companies will own a “significant” share of Biomaster, which will employ the new capital to position itself for an IPO. At the same time, Beike will gain access to Biomaster’s technology, which Beike will use in its own clinics in China, Southeast Asia and South America.

NeoStem, Inc. (NBS) closed its acquisition of China Biopharmaceuticals Holdings (CHBP) (see story). China Biopharma’s sole asset is a 51% stake in Suzhou Erye Pharmaceutical Co., a 50-year old pharmaceutical company that expects to generate $60 million in revenue and net income of $12 million in 2009. NeoStem is a stem cell storage company based in the US, Suzhou Erye Pharma boasts a portfolio of 100 products on seven cGMP lines that it markets in China. RimAsia Capital Partners, LP will own a substantial portion of the new company.

ScinoPharm, an API manufacturer based in Taiwan, began construction of a new China manufacturing facility in Changshu, Jiangsu province (see story). The facility will include an R&D center and production plants that are fully compliant with US and international GMP standards. The facility, which is expected to be operational in 2011, will initially produce GMP grade pharmaceutical intermediates. It will be equipped to manufacture APIs at a later date.

Hutchison MediPharma ((AIM: CHM)) made two significant announcements about its innovative drug candidates. The first concerned the company’s lead compound, HMPL-004, which met all endpoints in a Phase IIb clinical trial in patients with mild-to-moderate active Ulcerative Colitis (see story). Last summer, the company announced that early data showed HMPL-004 was effective in another Phase II trial, this one conducted in patients with Crohn’s disease. HMPL-004 is a proprietary oral compound that is extracted from a China herb and retards inflammation through a novel mechanism.

The second MediPharma announcement concerns HMPL-001, a proprietary anti-inflammatory drug candidate that began its first-in-human Phase I clinical trial (see story). HMPL-011 is a new single-chemical entity with a novel mechanism of action. It is a cytokine modulator being developed as an oral therapy for auto-immune diseases. The first subjects were dosed on 28 October in Australia, where the trial is being conducted.

And finally, Sinovac Biotech (NASDAQ:SVA) will move the home for its stock listing from the NYSE Amex to the NASDAQ Global Market (see story). The reason given for the change was “greater liquidity.” Target day for the transfer is November 16. Although most NASDAQ companies use a four-letter symbol, Sinovac will be allowed to keep its current three-letter identifier, SVA, so the new listing will not have much effect on most investors.

Disclosure: none.