4 Chinese Immunotherapy Companies to Keeps Tabs on in 2019
COVID-19 and China
Laboratorian is watchfully performing a test. Photo: Credit to Shanghai Cell Therapy Group

Biopharmaceutical company NextCure's IPO at NASDAQ on May 7th yet again attracted investors' attention to the immunotherapy products. The consensus has already been held by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) towards the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy. Four Chinese pharmaceuticals are developing auspicious cancer immunotherapy drugs to provide a recipe for the unmet needs of China's healthcare market. 

Although the treatment process possesses several complications, it works. Lung cancer is the leading cause of the cancer-related mortality in China, with non-small cell lung type of cancer (NSCLC) accounting for over 85% of all cases. NAM provides evidence-based recommendations to help clinicians integrate immune checkpoint inhibitors into the treatment plan for patients with NSCLC. 

EqualOcean picked four companies that are providing cutting-edge solutions in China's rising healthcare industry: I-Mab Bio (天境生物), Jacobio (加科思), YuceBio (裕策生物) and Shanghai Cell Therapy Group (上海细胞治疗集团). These pharma groups operate in several areas of cancer treatment, including immunotherapy. Some of these four companies have already launched their FDA approved clinical stage products, like Jacobio; and all of them are furiously growing. 

What Pushes the Interest in Immuno-oncology (IO)? 

Compared to traditional surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other means; immuno-oncology has relatively fewer side effects and has shown strong efficacy in curing malignant diseases, particularly melanoma. EqualOcean foresees significant improvements in cancer treatment via several methods of IO.

"The global cancer-immunotherapy market is expected to grow rapidly with a rising CAGR of 14.6% during the forecast period of 2016 to 2024." forecasts Transperancy Market Research

The shortcomings of the conventional treatments together with ceaselessly increasing cancer diagnosis rates further attracted the attention to immunotherapy. While radiotherapy and chemotherapy target malignant cells via radiation and various chemicals, they are bringing about several side-effects. 

Distinctively, immunotherapy strengthens patients' immune system to eliminate the cancerous cells. The main therapies used include checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T cell therapy.

CAR-T cell therapy aims to transform human T-cells in order for them to recognize tumour antigens and stimulate the immune system to remove cancer cells. Relevant research has entered the commercial market and its efficacy has been postulated several times.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors of Immunotherapy

Checkpoint inhibitors are a type of drug that blocks certain proteins made by some types of immune system cells, such as T cells, and some cancer cells. These proteins help to keep immune responses in check and can keep T cells strong enough to destroy the cancer cells. When these proteins are blocked, the “brakes” on the immune system are released and T cells are able to kill cancer cells. In short, this therapy aims to help the patient's warrior cells to eliminate the cancerous cells. 

What is significant about this type of immunotherapy is that it provides new solutions to fight against lung cancer. 

"Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide, with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounting for over 85% of all cases. Until recently, chemotherapy – characterized by some benefit but only rare durable responses – was the only treatment option for patients with NSCLC whose tumors lacked targetable mutations. By contrast, immune checkpoint inhibitors have demonstrated distinctly durable responses and represent the advent of a new treatment approach for patients with NSCLC," states the article published on Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer

The article postulates that more than 85% of all lung cancer cases can be considered to advised immune checkpoint inhibitors therapy; if the prerequisite conditions are satisfied for immunotherapy.

I-Mab Biopharma

I-Mab is a biopharmaceutical company with a focus on biologics in the therapeutic areas of immuno-oncology and immuno-inflammation. Its independently developed CD47 targeted human monoclonal antibody TJC4 was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clinical research.

On 29 November 2018, I-Mab and TRACON Pharmaceuticals announced strategic partnerships for multiple immuno-oncology programs. 

The R&D team is led by Zang Jingwu (臧敬五), a venerable biopharmaceutical scientist that has published papers as the first author on The Lancet. Under his leadership, I-Mab is developing biologics in immune-oncology and autoimmune areas.

They have accumulated four rounds of financing since its incubation in 2016, receiving more than USD 380 million. It has also acquired Tasgen (天视珍生物) in March 2017, which is a company focusing on autoimmune diseases. I-Mab Biopharma is backed by wealthy investors like Hillhouse Capital (高瓴资本) and CDH Hund (鼎晖资本), with a history of extensively investing in healthcare companies.

Bloomberg speculated that the company is to target up to USD 500 million in IPO and scheduled its initial public offering to presumably in the first half of 2019.


YuceBio is a biotech company focusing on cancer immunotherapy and assistive cancer diagnosis detection systems. 

Founded in 2015 in Shenzhen, the company is the first biotech concentrating in immunotherapy R&D on gene detection and big data. YuceBio’s “Ladder for Cancer Moonshot” project aims to build a collective gene database for R&D purpose and will apply AI and big data techs to analyze collected genetic and clinical data to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between genotype and immunity and the mechanism of the immune system in cancer treatment. (Read more)

IDG capital partner Yang Fei (杨飞), who has invested in several of well-known companies such as Tencent, Baidu, Ctripbelieves that Yuce Bio will continue to strengthen its leading position in the field of cancer immunotherapy in China. The IDG medical team has been paying attention to the development of tumour immunotherapy.

Led by IDG, YuceBio completed several hundred millions of B round financing in 2018 October, strengthening its leading place in tumour immunology.


Jacobio's antineoplastic drug JAB-3068’s clinical trial plan is under CFDA’s review, though the plan has already been approved by the US FDA in January 2018.

Jacobio has also gained the support of the science and technology fund in the development zone of Beijing. Following the state-support, it has attracted many private capitals to follow up the company.

"Benefiting by comprehensive support provided by the development zone, the company's development progress is much faster than expected. At present, the main clinical research JAB-3068 is progressing smoothly in China and the United States." Wang Yinxiang (王印祥), the chairman of Jacobio, stated.

Shanghai Cell Therapy Group

SCTG is a high-tech company aiming to provide diagnosis and treatment services through precision medicine technics. SHCTG have hospitals, R&D centres, clinical immunotherapy centres and a cell bank in Shanghai. The ecosystem drives SCTG with a strong backup and elevates the efficiency in R&D progress, which is the core power of SCTG.

Founded in 2011, SCTG has completed three funding series at a total value of CNY 1.24 billion (USD 182 million), in which Legend Capital(君联资本) led the Series B, and followed in recent series C funding.

Nonetheless, Chinese companies are still lagging behind in terms of immunotherapy development capacity compare to EU countries and the United States. 

However, China's suitable immunotherapy application ground and its technically capable companies that are providing readily available solutions for China's bleeding wound, cancer, present an overall opportunity for the investors and, more importantly, patients. 

Unfortunately, immunotherapy is not a silver bullet in cancer treatment since it still presents several side effects along with its limited efficacy in particular common cases. In spite of the challenges, the high unit price of immunotherapy drugs becomes an important engine to support the revenue stream of pharmaceutical enterprises within the cancer treatment market.

Supported by the government, and scalable market capacity in China;  Chinese immunotherapy companies are expected to grow and provide very far-reaching benefits to the Chinese patients and their investors.

Although their long-term hurdling will be challenging, they will find a market and the support from the third parties, as long as the scientists advocate immunotherapy.

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