8:53 PM
Sep 20, 2018
 |  BC Innovations  |  Product R&D

China’s rising genomics start-ups

How Chinese start-ups are going big on the genome

Behind bellwethers BGI Genomics Co. Ltd. and WuXi NextCode Genomics Inc., a new generation of Chinese genomics companies is emerging with ambitions to solve urgent problems, including early cancer detection and clinical trial recruitment, by mining health and genomic data on massive scales. While the field’s fast growth and alignment with national priorities are signs China could take pole position in genomics, the big unknown is how diagnostics regulation will influence the landscape.

China was an early entrant to genomics, precipitated by its participation in the Human Genome Project in the late 1990s, according to BGI Genomics CSO Mao Mao.

“If you look at all the areas of basic research in China, suddenly genomics was ranked much higher than other subjects like physics and chemistry,” said Mao. “We caught it at the beginning.”

BGI launched as a not-for-profit research organization in 1999 and also went on to become a commercial genomics research and clinical testing powerhouse, with its BGI Genomics division listing on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in July 2017. BGI researchers have published hundreds of papers, and the company established the China National GeneBank, a bio-repository and -omics database.

In 2015, CRO giant WuXi PharmaTech Inc. -- now New WuXi Life Science Ltd. -- acquired Massachusetts-based NextCODE Health. The resulting subsidiary, WuXi NextCode, uses computational architecture developed by Iceland’s deCode genetics, plus artificial intelligence, to drive its genomics analysis and diagnostic platforms (see: “WuXi Ex Machina”).

Now, a next generation of Chinese genomics companies are gaining ground, assembling databases that rival the size of major Western projects built by consortia. The wave is benefiting from the early movers, including former BGI CEO Jun Wang, who founded digital health company iCarbonX and Mao, who this year founded early cancer detection newco SeekIn Inc. He retains his CSO role at BGI part time, and the companies are independent.

At least 10 other genomics companies have been formed in China since 2014. Six are working on liquid biopsy-based pan-cancer screening, with the goal of beating California-based Grail Inc. in the development of sensitive diagnostics for disease interception (see Table: “Chinese Genomics Start-ups”).

Table: Chinese genomics start-ups

At least 12 genomics companies developing next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based tests have been founded in China since 2014.

(A) Announced a “several 10-million RMB” series A in May; (B) Announced a $28 million series B in 2017 but did not disclose amounts of prior round(s); (C) RMB338 million raised in series B and C; series A amount not disclosed; (D) RMB270M raised in angel, series A and series A+ rounds, with an undisclosed “X00M RMB” series B in 2018; (E) Raised “over” RMB100M in a series A round and “nearly” RMB100M “pre-B” round in September; (F) Announced a “nearly” RMB100 million financing at a total valuation of RMB1 billion in 2016; (G) Valuation of RMB 200M ($30M) in 2016 after undisclosed first financing round. Source: BCIQ: BioCentury Online Intelligence; company websites

CompanyLocationFoundedPlatformRaised (millions)
SeekIn Inc.Shenzhen2018Circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) -based early cancer detectionUndisclosed
Ningbo My-BioMed Biotechnology Co. Ltd.Shanghai2016Tumor tissue-based tests to guide treatment decisions; ctDNA-based drug resistance monitoring for lung cancer and colorectal cancer (CRC)Undisclosed (A)
iCarbonXShenzhen2015Digital health management platform that analyzes genetic, molecular, phenotypic and behavioral data from its users, and makes nutrition, exercise or product recommendations$154
AnchorDx Corp.Guangzhou2015Tumor tissue-based tests to guide treatment decisions for lung cancer; methylated ctDNA-based early cancer detection and monitoring>$28(B)
GenomiCare Biotechnology...

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