Juno, WuXi JV in China score $100M in fresh funding as it sets stage for first CAR-T approval

China’s oncology-focused biotech hub has raised already millions in venture funding and lured powerful global biopharma partners to address the high rates of cancer in the country. In yet another example, the joint venture between Juno and to WuXi’s AppTec has raised a sizable $100 million in a fresh round of funding.

The Shanghai-based company, christened JW Therapeutics (an initial each from its root companies), was created to marry Juno’s CAR-T development experience and WuXi’s AppTec’s muscular manufacturing capacity. In 2018, it scored $90 million to take its lead experimental B cell malignancy-focused drug, JWCAR029, into the clinic and build a new manufacturing plant.

Now, as the drug is being ushered into mid-stage development, JW has raised another $100 million in a round led by CPE and Mirae Asset, jointed by CR-CP Life Science Fund and Oriza Holdings, as well as existing investors including Loyal Valley Capital, Temasek, Sequoia Capital China, ARCH Venture Partners. Juno (bought out by Celgene, which was swallowed by Bristol Myers Squibb) along with WuXi also contributed.

Apart from Temasek, Sequoia Capital China, and ARCH Venture Partners, the funds will be used to bolster the company’s CAR-T pipeline and gear up commercialization capacity to support potential launches.

In recent years, big US and global drugmakers have allied with cancer biotech companies as an entry point or as a way to expand their footprint in the populous country marred by high rates of cancer and a burgeoning life sciences industry.

Days ago, Sanofi tied up with Alphamab Oncology — which made a splashy $230 million in its public debut on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX) late last year — to collaborate on a bispecific antibody focused on treating breast cancer.

Innovent Biologics, which raised a considerable $421 million in its HKEX debut in 2018, snagged Roche as a partner on Tuesday in a deal that grants it access to the Swiss drugmaker’s bispecific antibody and CAR-T technology. Innovent, in collaboration with Eli Lilly, was the first drugmaker to get a homegrown Chinese checkpoint inhibitor across the finish line in the country — in late 2018, the PD-1 agent Tyvyt (sintilimab) scored approval for patients with relapsed/refractory classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There are a handful of checkpoint inhibitors on the Chinese market now, including Junshi’s Tuoyi, Merck’s flagship Keytruda and BeiGene’s tislelizumab.

BeiGene too has close ties with the United States, the world’s largest pharmaceuticals market. In addition to a cadre of partnerships with small and mid-sized US drug developers, the company sells a raft of Celgene (now Bristol Myers) drugs in China, while Amgen has taken a hefty 20.5% stake in the drugmaker.

Driven partly by high rates of pollution and smoking, cancer is the leading cause of death in China. An estimated 4.3 million new cancer cases and 2.9 million new cancer deaths occurred in China in 2018, according to a 2019 analysis. Compared to the USA and UK, China has lower cancer incidence but a 30% and 40% higher cancer mortality than the two nations respectively, the authors found.