HAVANA, JULY 27 Bioven, the Malaysian Biotech Company is looking to accelerate and expand its clinical trials of a promising non-small cell lung cancer drug developed in Cuba.
Statistics from the American Cancer Society indicate that non-small cell cancer makes up approximately 85-90% of all lung cancers, so it’s easy to see why drugs in this field are such a big deal. According to Bioven’s CEO Stephen Drew, the start-up aims to raise US$30-35m by the end of this year or early 2016 on the junior AIM market in London.
This would signal the second IPO of a Biotech company wielding a Cuban-based drug after Abivax went public on the Euronext market last month, raising €58m and gaining the accolade of largest Biotech IPO in French history. So what’s so special about this Malaysian company and why are its ties to Cuban cancer treatments so interesting?
Back in 2002, Johan Indot was invited along with a Malaysian commercial delegation to investigate possible business opportunities in Cuba.
Malaysia have shared bilateral foreign relations with Cuba since 1975 and the Cuban government even provides scholarships for Malaysian students to study medicine locally. Johan Indot was at the time a well known businessman for co-founding two companies, a sales outfit which he sold approximately a decade earlier and Inoilco, a marine services company that works closely within the oil and gas industry.
Initially Johan Indot’s journey to Cuba inspired him to start a pharmaceutical importing company, shipping and selling commonplace drugs to ASEAN, however the weight of regulatory conformity and scrutiny meant the company did not come into fruition. Nevertheless another opportunity came up, not for selling generic medicine but to buy the rights for a cancer drug developed by the Cuban Centre of Molecular Immunology in Havana, Cuba’s capital.
Since the trade embargo with the US and Cuba was established around 1962, the country has adapted in many ways. One of the most interesting and relevant is Cuba’s large investment within the Biotech industry giving rise to mature and tantalisingly extensive research data, spanning decades. The recent improvement in communications and relations with the US after its embassy re-opened in Havana last week has expanded possibilities further. This opens up Cuba’s Biotech sector to more foreign investment and transparency internationally.
Bioven’s cancer drug is currently in a phase 3 trial, which is the last hurdle before receiving regulatory approval. This involves 419 patients within 10 different countries and although Bioven has strong domestic funding already, an equity raise on the junior Aim market in London could give the Biotech startup the boost it needs.
It was announced in April 2015 that the drug would also be tested independently in New York and although Bioven doesn’t own the rights to the drug in the US, the CEO Mr Drew remains positive that the company could extend a deal to include the world’s largest pharmaceutical market, that is if the trade embargo is lifted.