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Fosun's Henlius Biotech shares flat in Hong Kong debut; unit eyes global market

Shares in Shanghai Henlius Biotech Inc. closed at HK$49.45 per share on its first day of trading in Hong Kong on Sept. 25, compared to an issue price of HK$49.60.

Shanghai-based Henlius Biotech is a unit of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (Group) Co. Ltd. It raised HK$3.21 billion, or roughly US$410 million, in its Sept. 18 IPO priced at the bottom end of its indicative range. The float was originally priced at between HK$49.60 and HK$57.80 per share.

The IPO is the fourth-largest life science listing worldwide in 2019, according to biotechnology investor Brad Loncar of Loncar Investment LLC.

Whether the listing will change market sentiment in Hong Kong, which has been rocked by months of political unrest, depends on the trading afterward, Loncar said.

Henlius Biotech, established in 2010, is the first drugmaker to release biosimilar treatments in China. Biosimilars are lower-cost versions of biologic therapies.

The company has 10 biosimilar products in its portfolio, including HLX01, a rituximab biosimilar that received regulatory approval in China in February. The non-Hodgkin lymphoma drug is jointly marketed by Biogen Inc. and Roche Holding AG's Genentech Inc. under the brand name Rituxan.

Henlius CEO Scott Liu told reporters at a Sept. 25 press event in Hong Kong that the company is also eyeing markets outside of China. Its commercialization partner Accordant Healthcare Limited has filed a marketing application in Europe for HLX02, a biosimilar of Roche's breast cancer drug Herceptin.

Liu said the company will aim to submit marketing applications for its first batch of biosimilars in Europe. The company is also targeting markets including Australia and New Zealand for its biosimilar treatments. It is more cautious about entering the U.S. market as the legal barrier for marketing biosimilars in the U.S. is high, according to the CEO. Fosun Pharmaceutical Chairman Chen Qiyu added during the press conference that there are also already many established biosimilar drugmakers in the U.S.

Henlius is also developing more than 20 in-house biologic drug candidates. These innovative drugs could also set the stage for the company's development of combination therapies for cancer, Liu and Chen had said during an event in Hong Kong earlier in September. Chen added that drugs by Fosun Pharmaceutical can also be combined with Henlius' treatments.

Liu said at the Sept. 25 event that Fosun Pharmaceutical will help Henlius with sales and commercialization. Fosun Pharmaceutical's team will be selling Henlius' HLX03, a biosimilar of AbbVie Inc.'s arthritis treatment Humira, according to Liu.

Given that Fosun Pharmaceutical has assisted Henlius with the negotiations to get HLX01 on the provincial drug reimbursement lists in China, Liu said the help from Fosun Pharmaceutical will be a "jump-start" for HLX03.

"It gives us an edge. Compared to our competitors, we have a relatively big advantage in terms of understanding of the market and connections with hospitals," Liu said.