Ascentage third round garners $150M for apoptosis cancer drugs

Dajun Yang, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder, chairman and CEO. (Ascentage)

Chinese biotech Ascentage has raised another $150 million for its pipeline of drugs designed to induce programmed cell death in cancer, which should keep it going for three years, according to its co-founder and CEO.

Dajun Yang M.D., Ph.D., told FierceBiotech that the series C cash injection will help it bring 16 ongoing clinical trials in the U.S., Australia and China to fruition, and will also be used to build out its R&D and manufacturing facilities and fund around 60 new hires. That will take its headcount to 300 by end-year.

Ascentage—headquartered in Suzhou—is focusing its efforts on a portfolio of seven drug candidates that target BCL-2, MDM2-p53 and IAP, and according to Yang “is the only company targeting these … pathways, around which we've built a robust and growing pipeline of novel product candidates, which are advancing in clinical trials.”

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Ascentage’s pipeline has grown out of research conducted by its founders at the University of Michigan focused on trying to disengage molecular brakes that prevent cancer cells undergoing apoptosis or programmed cell death, the body’s primary method for doing away with damaged cells.

Its portfolio is currently headed by BCL-2/BCL-xL dual inhibitor APG-1252 for small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and other solid tumors and IAP inhibitor APG-1387, for which preliminary safety data were presented at this year’s ASCO meeting.

Slightly further back in development are a selective BCL-2 inhibitor called APG-2575 for B-cell cancers and MDM2-p53-targeting drug APG-115 for acute myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as three ‘next-generation’ kinase inhibitors in development for the Chinese market only.

“We believe we are differentiated by superior safety and efficacy profiles and our strong protein-protein interaction (PPI) drug discovery platform,” says Yang.

“Our founders have been working in the apoptosis space for 20 years, and we have developed cutting-edge technology and deep expertise in this powerful area of science.”

Over the next few months, dose-ranging and efficacy data should emerge for APG-1252 in SCLC, while a U.S. phase 1 study of APG-2575 in CLL should also read out and a Chinese study will get underway, said Yang.

The latest round takes the total raised by Ascentage to date to $240 million, and was led by existing investors YuanMing Prudence Fund and Oriza Seed Venture Capital, as well as new investor Teng Yue Partners. ArrowMark Partners, HDY International Investment, CTS Capital and CCB International also participated.

It’s the latest in a string of Chinese biotechs to report impressive fundraising rounds in recent weeks, coming after I-Mab raised $220 million in its series C, and another example of a Chinese company choosing to raise capital in Hong Kong rather than the U.S. or Shanghai. Yang played down suggestions that the Chinese biotech sector is becoming overheated, however.

“It may seem like there is suddenly a lot of activity coming out of China, and there is financially. But many of the companies that are getting funded have been in business for quite a while,” he told FierceBiotech.

“I see it as the global financial community just catching up to the rich biopharma company opportunities emerging in China.”

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