Asian Investors Venturing Boldly for North American Life Science Innovations

15 Dec

Shaoyu Chang, MD, MPH, Director of Research & Asia Business Development Liaison

Shaoyu 10*10

Capital from Asian countries has become a significant force behind life science innovations in North America. On October 10 2016, Zymergen, a Bay Area biotech startup, announced that it closed a massive $130 million Series B round led by the Japanese telecom giant Softbank. The infusion of cash aims to help the three-year-old company build a robot workforce to produce industrial chemicals through genetically altered microbes.

In our previous article, we analyzed US-Asia cross-border investments in life sciences. As we look back on year 2016, the trend seems even clearer. The LSN database recorded 204 pre-IPO equity financing deals in life sciences in North America this year. Interestingly, one out of every four pre-IPO equity financing deals has participation of at least one Asian investment organization (Figure 1), including Softbank’s mega deal.


Figure 1. Life Sciences Private Equity Financing Rounds in North America 2016 (total: 204)

Although cross-border deals are considered challenging at times, a good number of Asian investors are willing to take a leading role, such as Shenzhen, China-based DiNovA Capital. Just this week, the healthcare-focused firm led a $35 million equity financing round into Laguna Hills, CA-based Sonendo, Inc. The new capital aims to advance the commercialization of its dentistry technology platform on a global scale.

For Asian investors, syndicating with co-investors helps diversify portfolio and gain exposure to a wider range of innovations. WuXi Healthcare Ventures, the corporate VC arm of WuXi AppTec, is one of the most active cross-border investors, having participated in three biomedical deals including Avelas Biosciences, Twist Bioscience Corp., and Ideaya Biosciences. Asian co-investors provide not only capital injection but often strategic value in a syndicated round.

Despite recent financial uncertainty, Asian country governments are promoting their biomedical industry with stronger-than-ever urgency. State-owned enterprises and private corporations alike are encouraged to look abroad for innovative technologies that address healthcare problems at home. For example, Japan is seeking geriatric medicine and home care sectors, and China is more interested in lung and liver diseases.

At the upcoming RESI San Francisco conference, you can expect to meet investors from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and India. We are pleased to announce the Asia panel track, composing of Asia Investors Landscape Workshop, Asia Pharma Partners Panel, Asia Medtech Partners Panel, and Asia Pacific Investors Panel. This track will cover both breadth and depth of US-Asia cross-border investments in healthcare. Speakers are as follows:

Asia Investors Landscape:

Asia Pharma Partners:

Asia Medtech Partners:

Asia Pacific Investors:

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