I-Mab closes one of China’s biggest-ever biotech fundraisings

I-Mab senior management (I-Mab)

China’s I-Mab Biopharma just raised a massive $220 million in a third-round fundraising that once again reveals the growing strength of the country’s emerging biotech sector.

The Shanghai-based company—which grew out of the merger between Third Venture Biopharma and Tasgen Biotech last year—says it plans to plow the cash back into its pipeline of preclinical and clinical-stage antibody drugs for cancer and autoimmune disorders. It’s had no difficulty raising cash to fund its endeavors, having completed a $150 million series B round in March 2017.

I-Mab will need plenty of cash if it to pursue its strategy of taking multiple programs through the clinic simultaneously. It has already filed for approval to start trials of several drug candidates in China and the U.S., including multiple phase 2 and phase 3 studies, with more on the way.

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Last year, I-Mab boosted its pipeline by licensing MorphoSys’ anti-CD38 antibody MOR202—a potential rival to Johnson & Johnson’s multiple myeloma drug Darzalex—in China and neighboring territories for $120 million. It also licensed Chinese rights to interlukin-7 candidate HyLeukin from South Korean biotech Genexine in a deal reported to be worth $548 million, including $12 million upfront.

The company has a two-pronged approach to R&D, with one portion of its pipeline directed at the domestic Chinese market and a second focusing on therapies for the U.S. and other international markets.

“This round of financing will facilitate further development of our innovative assets in China and internationally, said Jingwu Zang M.D., Ph.D., the founder and CEO of I-Mab.

The scale of the fundraising is a measure of just how far China’s biotech industry has come in recent years. The country is reported to be already conducting more clinical trials than the U.S. and is pushing hard to develop advanced new therapies including CAR-T. Last year, a CAR-T candidate for multiple myeloma from Legend Biopharma was a surprise hit at ASCO.

There are already warnings that the China’s biotech sector could be getting overheated. In a recent ChinaBio Group article, Jonathan Wang of OrbiMed Asia suggested there is “a big bubble forming right now [and] a few companies have raised financings or are planning IPOs at overly high valuations, compared to their counterparts in other markets, such as the U.S.”

On the other hand, Wang sees “a very real, unprecedented boom in China's biopharma industry, triggered by the CFDA reform, the influx of returnees to China, the high interest of investors and the establishment of new exit channels.”

I-Mab’s series C was led by Hony Capital, with Hillhouse Capital, HOPU Investments, CDH Investment, Ally Bridge Group, Singapore-based EDBI, and existing investors C-Bridge Capital and Tasly Capital also participating.