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Wuxi NextCODE raises funds for Chinese genomics push, eyes IPO

Wuxi NextCODE is bidding on a 10-year project to mine the genomes of 5 to 10 million Chinese people. The company, backed by Amgen Inc., Temasek and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s Jack Ma, remains privately held, though CEO Hannes Smárason said in an interview that an IPO could also be on the table.

The company has targeted $200 million in its current round of fundraising, due to close in July, and was said to attract investors such as Hillhouse Capital Group and Sequoia Capital China, Reuters reported May 22. Singapore state investor Temasek and Yunfeng Capital, the private equity firm run by Ma, co-led a $75 million financing round May 1.

"The current and next round of funding will be used primarily to expand our commercial execution team in the China and global markets, to increase research and development in [artificial intelligence] and deep learning, and expand our direct to consumer business in Asia," said Smárason, who spoke to S&P Global Market Intelligence before the $200 million funding round was reported.

Originally a 2013 spinoff from deCODE, an Icelandic company that specializes in analyzing and understanding the human genome, NextCODE Health held exclusive rights to deCODE's IT infrastructure and clinical data. It merged with Wuxi Apptech in 2015, and the combined Wuxi NextCODE, with offices in China, Iceland and the U.S., now holds the rights to the infrastructure Wuxi Apptech had created through its genome center.

Smárason also said a public listing could be in the works. "We are actively looking to IPO at some point," he said. "We're not putting a time limit on it, but in the next few years it's a path that we are actively considering, [the $75 million raised from the series B] along with another round of fundraising would be the last amount of capital we'll need before we go public."

Amgen is one of the founding partners and investors in NextCODE Health and reinvested in the company's recent round of capital raising. And Smárason said the company is planning on a strategic partnership with the other two participants, Temasek and Yunfeng Capital. He said the company hopes to strengthen its relationship with Singapore through its ties to Temasek and that it also formed an alliance with National Heart Centre Singapore, a cardiac research and treatment center.

The Yunfeng connection provides access to the Alibaba network and China more broadly. "We're very interested in partnering with any one of the Ali companies connected to Yunfeng through Jack Ma," he said. "We have commercial products in China, and if we could find a way to leverage the vast distribution capabilities of companies like Alibaba, it could be a significant development for the market penetration of our products."

The Bloomberg of genomics

China's genome mapping plans comprise the "biggest precision project in the world today," according to the CEO. "It's a national-scale project that's funding 18 to 20 centers to sequence the population within its region to generate genomic data."

Wuxi NextCODE has three products on the market in China. FamilyCODE allows expectant parents to assess the risk of passing a genetic disorder on to their children, RareCODE helps diagnose rare diseases and HealthCODE allows individuals to see what conditions they are genetically predisposed to and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly.

The CEO said the company is well-positioned to play a "significant role" in China's precision medicine initiative. "The cost of sequencing has dropped dramatically, and we can now scan and analyze the genome more holistically, which allows us to make more observations about a heterogeneous and complicated population like China. The country is faced with challenges to provide higher quality care for its population, and if they can use genomics to identify those who are in most need of particular services, you can imagine the impact can have on their planning and budgetary decisions," he said.

"Wuxi NextCODE's core mission is to enable anyone to use the genome for a multitude of benefits. We're building a global platform for genomic data, much like what Bloomberg did for financial data in the '80s and '90s," Smárason said.