After poaching an ex-Merck exec to run its R&D, Chinese biotech Ascletis has raided another U.S. Big Pharma for its new chief scientific officer.
The company has poached Handan He, Ph.D., a 22-year veteran of Swiss major Novartis, as its new CSO. She was most recently the global head of computational, biopharmaceutics and translational PK/PD at Novartis where she managed scientific teams across the U.S. and Switzerland.
This comes half a year after Ascletis enticed another Big Pharma veteran to serve as its new CMO and head of R&D, attracting former MSD China global vice president Zhengqing Li, Ph.D., to the role.
Li has also served as general manager of MSD China’s R&D operations since 2011 and is credited with helping the Merck & Co. unit gain Chinese approval for more than 20 product filings, including checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda, hepatitis C treatment Zepatier and human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil.
Ascletis has already bagged its first product approval in China for Ganovo (danoprevir), an NS3/4A protease inhibitor for hepatitis C virus infection that is the first directly acting antiviral to be commercialized by a domestic company in China.
Most of Ascletis’ near-term pipeline is directed firmly toward the domestic market, but the biotech’s longer-term challenge will be to help elevate Ascletis from a domestic to an international biopharma player.
That means advancing in-house drugs for hepatitis B virus and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis into clinical development, which are the immediate tasks for He and Li.
Last year, Ascletis was valued at around $2 billion after its initial public offering priced at the middle of an indicative range, but it was swiftly brought down to earth by a steep decline that hit many companies trading in Hong Kong.
The biotech hit a high of 8.45 Hong Kong dollars ($1.08) a share in March after hiring Li but has steadily fallen over the following months, worth just over 3 Hong Kong dollars yesterday with a market cap of around $440 million.