Athenex rakes in $100M, sets up Chinese TCR-focused JV

handshake over a desk with computers and someone taking notes
Athenex initially partnered with Xiangxue in 2012, when it outlicensed KX-02, an Src kinase inhibitor for the treatment of glioblastoma. (rawpixel)

Just over a year since its IPO, Athenex is broadening its scope—the biotech is picking up a $100 million investment from Perceptive Advisors, licensing a modified cancer-fighting enzyme and launching a new Chinese joint venture built around T-cell receptor (TCR) technology.

Athenex's new funding will take the form of $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt. It priced a downsized $66 million IPO in June last year, after filing to raise up to $100 million in its S-1. While its shares debuted at $11 apiece, they quickly picked up, now sitting at about $19 per share.

The Buffalo, New York-based biotech is committing $30 million to the joint venture and handing over $5 million in common stock as an upfront payment to its longtime partner, Xiangxue Life Sciences, Athenex said in a statement. It will hold 55% stake in the JV, dubbed Axis Therapeutics, while Xiangxue will hold 45%. Axis will work on therapies based on Xiangxue's TCR-T cell tech and is on the hook for up to $110 million in clinical and regulatory milestone payments. Xiangxue is holding on to the mainland Chinese rights to the platform and will pay royalties to Axis if its treatments are commercialized in China.

Athenex and Xiangxue initially partnered in 2012, when the former out-licensed KX-02, an Src kinase inhibitor for the treatment of glioblastoma. Athenex has a second kinase inhibitor in the works—KX-01, which is being developed in oral and ointment forms for liquid tumors and ovarian cancer, and psoriasis, skin cancer and actinic keratosis, a condition that can develop into skin cancer.

It also has a suite of assets developed using its Orascovery platform, designed to convert intravenous chemotherapy drugs—such as paclitaxel and docetaxel—into oral forms. Oraxol, Athenex's oral version of paclitaxel, combined with an oral nonabsorbable P-glycoprotein inhibitor, is currently in phase 3 for metastatic breast cancer.

"Given our confidence in our two phase 3 programs in Oraxol for metastatic breast cancer and KX-01 ointment for actinic keratosis, we are delighted to have this opportunity to further expand our product pipeline. The additions of TCR-T based cancer immunotherapy in collaboration with our long-term business partner, Xiangxue Pharmaceutical and its subsidiary Xiangxue Life Sciences, and of an anticancer biologic will further complement and enhance our Oncology Innovation Platform," said Johnson Lau, Athenex CEO.

"We are particularly excited about the potential synergies that can be created between the new therapies and our existing pipeline," he said.

Athenex is also adding a pegylated genetically modified human arginase to its pipeline, in-licensing it from Avalon PolyTom, an Avalon Biomedical Management company that specializes in developing biologics using proprietary arginase-based technology.