Hong Kong stock exchange opens to biotechs

On April 30, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange officially laid out the welcome mat for innovative companies with a special focus on biotechs. The newly established biotech chapter has relaxed listing rules to allow prerevenue biotechs with a market cap of at least HKD1.5 billion ($190 million) to go public. China's biotech sector has been enjoying explosive growth thanks to regulatory reforms made in 2017, but Chinese biotechs had few options for raising capital on a market close to home. Leading biotechs such as BeiGene of Beijing, Zai Labs and Hutchison Medipharma, both of Shanghai, listed on the NASDAQ instead. This looks set to change with HKEX, and all eyes are on Hong Kong to see how investors respond to the emerging Chinese biotech story. The HKEX admits that assessing biotech companies requires unique knowledge that they currently lack. To deepen its expertise and protect investors from poor-quality companies, the HKEX has established an advisory panel with 13 industry experts to provide advice to investors as needed. The exchange is also hiring experts while a professional ecosystem of bankers, analysts, lawyers and accountants is also coalescing. Currently, the HKEX is vetting companies that have decided to file for listing under the biotech chapter. Anti-viral developer Ascletis Pharma of Hangzhou was the first and, as of May 15, the only biotech to file an application to list. But reports suggest others intend to follow such as Ascentage Pharma of Suzhou, Tianjin-based China Tasly Pharma Group and Innovent Biologics of Suzhou. Foreign biotechs have also shown a strong interest in going public in Hong Kong according to Jeffrey H.W. Ng, senior vice president corporate communications, HKEX. So far none have filed an application to list but Grail, a cancer detection company backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, plans to take advantage of the new rules in Hong Kong. According to Ng, the first IPO could occur as early as late June or early July.

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Ellis, S. Hong Kong stock exchange opens to biotechs. Nat Biotechnol 36, 482 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt0618-482

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