Taiwan is one of the leaders in biotech listings: Aslan Pharma CEO

Dr Carl Firth, CEO of ASLAN Pharmaceuticals. Credit: ASLAN Pharmaceuticals.

Singapore-based biotechnology firm Aslan Pharmaceuticals, which focuses on the development of immunotherapies and targeted agents for Asia prevalent tumour types, closed an initial public offering (IPO) in Taiwan via competitive auction.

The IPO – which saw 10,409,000 shares being offered on auction in Taiwan – is expected to raise close to $30 million including the pre-IPO allocation.

In an announcement on 16 May 2017, the company stated that a total of 638 bids were received, of which 604 bids were eligible. The lowest winning bid was at NT$64 while the highest bid was NT$166, with a weighted average winning bid of NT$68.92 in an American auction format. This saw the auction raise about NT$717,388,280 ($23.8 million).

In accordance with the pre-IPO allocation, 2,602,000 shares will be made available via public subscription at an offer price of NT$68.92 ($2.28), which will see a target of NT$179,329,840 ($5.95 million) raised in the public offer. In aggregate, the IPO is expected to raise an estimated $29.75 million in capital.

Applications will begin on 18 May 2017 and end on 22 May 2017 with ASLAN Pharmaceuticals scheduled to list on the Taipei Exchange (TPEx) on 1 June 2017. Prior to this, the firm has raised $100 million in funding, according to Crunchbase data. Its last funding round was a $23 million Series D round in July 2016.

In an email interview with DEALSTREETASIA, the firm’s chief executive, Dr Carl Firth, said: “We decided to establish the company in Singapore for good reason – we wanted to access some of the strong capabilities Singapore has built in translational medicine and science. However, we also knew from the outset that there were few specialist biotech funds in Singapore, so we had to look elsewhere for funding.”

“Over the last 7 years, we’ve been able to attract leading investors from US, Japan, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong,” he added

Edited excerpts:

While the Taipei Exchange is among the 20 largest exchanges worldwide as at March 2017, why did you choose Taipei over Asia Pacific bourses with significantly more liquidity and trading volumes?

Taiwan is actually one of the leaders in terms of biotech listings and is very welcoming to foreign issuers. Out of 17 biotech companies currently in the queue for IPOs around the world, seven are in Taiwan! Taiwan’s equivalent of NASDAQ, the Taipei Exchange, actually has better liquidity for major biotech names than most other Asian and European bourses, and at times overtakes NASDAQ.

In terms of your journey towards your current role as the CEO of ASLAN, what sort of competitive advantage does the melding of a corporate leadership, banking and scientific background grant you relative to other biotechnology firms?

Drug development is not just about science. The science is very important, but the goal is to deliver a drug with data to convince a patient to take the drug, a doctor to prescribe the drug and a payor to pay for the drug.

Having worked in both research and commercial, during my ten years at AstraZeneca, I recognised the need to assemble a team of people who have this experience – a team that has taken drugs all the way to market. I was fortunate enough to work with some industry veterans during my time in big pharma, and they shared my vision of developing drugs for Asia prevalent cancer.

The idea behind ASLAN started to form in 2007, but I felt I didn’t know enough about investors and the financing environment to build a company. My subsequent three years at Merrill Lynch as Head of the Asia Healthcare Banking team helped me understand how to communicate with investors, how to structure financings and how to engage with the public markets. These skills have been invaluable in helping ASLAN raise $100 million over the last seven years and putting us in a position to access the public markets.

Perhaps, most importantly, my experience has taught me what I know and what I don’t know, and I surround myself with people who are much more capable of leading functions like research, clinical development and business development, allowing me to focus on our relationships with investors and other stakeholders.

As the company grows, would you consider a secondary listing on the SGX in the future? Are there any benefits to such a move?

If there is interest from Singapore investors in biotech, this is certainly something we would explore. However, at this stage, we have no intentions to do a secondary listing on the SGX. A natural second exchange for ASLAN to consider would be NASDAQ.

Comparing the largest stock exchanges globally as at 2017,  which are the best destinations for biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms to consider IPOs and secondary listings? 

Without a doubt, US is the leader over the long term. It’s the only exchange to have such a deep level of biotech investors and capital. But the IPO window tends to open and close. Even now, though the US market is trading at all-time highs, there is still a great deal of volatility in the biotech sector, with most recent IPOs underperforming and typically pricing at the bottom of the range.

Having said that, I’m sure the US biotech market will bounce back, under the right conditions. Outside of the US, there are few other markets that stand out besides Taiwan. Australia can be attractive for companies raising smaller amounts of capital. European markets, Japan and Korea are receptive to strong local stories but less so to a foreign company.

When evaluating the healthcare ecosystems and entrepreneurial ecosystems of various destinations in Asia, which has the best balance of talent, financial capital, and exit architecture to grow into a centre for Indo-Asia Pacific healthcare? 

No one market has the perfect balance in Asia. But I think that’s fine – you don’t need to have all components in one place. The trick is to figure out how to access all the pieces across the region and tie them into a single organisation. In ASLAN, we have built our headquarters in Singapore and have made good use of the leading clinical centres, scientific capabilities and talent that exists here. At the same time, we have also tapped into clinical centres and financial capital in Taiwan, manufacturers in China and other capabilities around the world. We are a global biotech that just happens to be headquartered in Singapore.

At the same time, we have also tapped into clinical centres and financial capital in Taiwan, manufacturers in China and other capabilities around the world. We are a global biotech that just happens to be headquartered in Singapore.

Also Read:

Singapore: ASLAN Pharma launches private auction of shares in Taiwan

Singapore: ASLAN Pharma to list on Taipei Exchange, targets $40m IPO

SG Dealbook: AsiaMedic to acquire LuyeEllium; ASLAN Pharma to list in Taipei

Singapore: Aslan Pharma raises $23m in pre-IPO investment

Aslan Pharma raises additional $9m led by MVP Capital Partners; closes Series C at $43m