Chinese pharma giant invests in NJ startup

Updated: 2016-06-27 23:31

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York(China Daily USA)

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Chinese pharma giant invests in NJ startup

Attending the opening of Hengrui Therapeutics' office in New Jersey on June 23 are (from left): Cathleen Bennett, New Jersey health commissioner; Debbie Hart, president and CEO of BioNJ; Shing-Fu Hsueh, mayor of West Windsor, New Jersey; Piaoyang Sun, chairman of Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co; Xing Jijun, counselor of science and technology of Chinese Consulate General in New York; Lianshan Zhang, president of Global R&D of Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co; and Adam Zong, president and CEO of Hengrui Therapeutics. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Chinese investors just made a foray in the US biotechnology sector, as a major pharmaceutical company and a partner have committed $100 million to a startup near Princeton, New Jersey.

Hengrui Therapeutics Inc (HTI) on June 23 announced an agreement with HR Bio Holdings Limited, a joint venture between Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co Ltd (JHM) and an undisclosed US investment firm, on a $100 million investment in HTI. The proceeds from the investment will be used to advance clinical trials in Hengrui Therapeutics' pharmaceutical research and development.

Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine is similar to a Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson in the US, HTI President and CEO Adam Zong told China Daily. JHM focuses on areas such as oncology, endocrinology, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, surgical products and imaging agents. The company's shares are traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

"This is not their first US investment," Zong said. "In the past, they had a small operation in the US focused on generic drug development."

The company, which was started in 1970, has sales of more than $1.2 billion. "We are pleased to see the US investment into HTI from our joint venture. It is an important step in our global development strategy," Piaoyang Sun, chairman of JHM and HTI, said in a statement. "We believe this level of capital funding will enable swift buildup of HTI's infrastructure, thus adequately support the execution of its development projects in the US and the rest of the world."

"With this strong infusion of capital, we at HTI can support a robust, clinical staged pipeline and deliver innovative medicines to patients in need," said Zong. "It will lay a good foundation for our company's long term growth."

Currently, Hengrui Therapeutics has about 10 employees at the company's Princeton-based facility engaged in clinical research, regulatory affairs and business development, said Zong.

HTI will take the $100 million investment and conduct clinical trials on several drugs, including a targeted therapy for EGFR and HER2, two genes that can be found in lung and breast cancer.

"Our drug will target these genes to suppress them and also kill existing cancer cells," explained Zong.

Zong said HTI will occupy office space that once housed the facilities of pharmaceutical company Sandoz. The Princeton-area location is in a part of central New Jersey that also is home to pharmaceutical companies Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson and Novo Nordisk.

"This location is definitely an advantageous one for a small pharma company like ours," noted Zong. "It is close to several outstanding colleges and universities like Princeton and Rutgers.

"It is also located near Philadelphia and New York City," continued Zong. "That means it's close to Temple and Penn (University of Pennsylvania) in Philly and Columbia (University) and New York University in New York."

The location also puts HTI near several well known medical clinics and hospitals, including Mount Sinai in New York and the UMDNJ/Rutgers facilities in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

"Some of these institutions have already been a collaborative partner with us," Zong said.

Zong said that the Princeton location also will give HTI an entrée to a skilled workforce. "We will have easy access to a huge talent pool in pharmaceutical and scientific research," he added.

Although HTI's office has a Princeton mailing address, the exact location of its office will be in West Windsor, New Jersey. The mayor of West Windsor, Shing-Fu Hsueh, attended the ceremonies for the opening of the HTI office.

"This is another step in promoting our area as an ideal location for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies," said Hsueh. "One of our selling points in West Windsor is that we have many pharma and biotech companies here. I am also happy to see more Chinese investment in our area."

Zong grew up 200 miles north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province. He came to the US to continue his education. "I came here for graduate studies at Rockefeller University in New York," he said.

After working at several pharmaceutical companies in the US, he received his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.