JPM24: Flagship chief says firm will have to ‘do some work’ before linking with China-based partners

Flagship went global last year, opening new offices in London and Singapore as part of a concerted expansion of the venture creation firm’s startup ecosystem. But it may be a bit before the Asia-Pacific outpost spurs new partnerships in China, according to CEO Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D.

“How we actually can have our ecosystem in the U.S. interact with a burgeoning and growing Chinese biotech innovation ecosystem is something we're gonna have to do some work to understand,” he said in an interview with Fierce Biotech on the sidelines of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Monday. The firm launched its first startup co-anchored in the U.K. Quotient Therapeutics was unveiled in November. 

Afeyan reiterated that Japan and South Korea are areas where Flagship is active in now, pointing to a new deal with Samsung announced Monday. The broad partnership includes access to clinical samples and investment from Samsung in Flagship firms. Spearheading regional activities and head of the Singapore hub is André Andonian, a former senior partner at McKinsey where he worked for more than 30 years. In that span, Andonian was chairman of McKinsey’s work in Japan and managing partner for Korea.

Geopolitical tensions have made investing in Chinese biotechs more precarious, though that hasn’t stopped everyone from making bets. Bayer and RTW Investments announced Monday that they were investing in Ji Xing Pharmaceuticals’ series D, with Bayer gaining “privileged rights” to negotiate the commercialization of Ji Xing’s assets. The company was founded and incubated by RTW in 2019. RTW also invested in China-based platform company Oricell Therapeutics last year. 

As for Flagship’s larger financing pool, Afeyan said the company’s latest $3.4 billion fund “continues to operate” but wouldn’t comment on fundraising plans. He pointed to the Samsung deal and another recent collaboration with Thermo Fischer as evidence of investor and corporate interest in life science investments.