No Profit? No Problem. Another Billionaire Rises in China

(Bloomberg) -- You don’t need earnings to become a billionaire in China.

Ascletis Pharma Inc., a maker of HIV and liver-cancer drugs, has raised $400 million after pricing its initial public offering at the middle of a marketed range at HK$14 a share. That would leave founder and majority owner Jinzi Wu with a fortune of about $1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The company is expected to begin trading Aug. 1.

Started just five years ago, it’s the first biotech company to take advantage of looser listing rules adopted in April by Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd., paving the way for unprofitable firms in the industry to go public. Ascletis declined to comment on Wu’s net worth.

The drugmaker reported a net loss of 86.9 million yuan ($12.8 million) last year, according to a prospectus, as the company has yet to generate sales.

Ascletis though does have deep-pocketed and savvy investors. It has raised $155 million in two rounds of financing with backers including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and C-Bridge Capital.

"The health-care sector is growing, while other sectors are slowing down," C-Bridge Chief Executive Officer Wei Fu said in a phone interview. The Shanghai private equity firm, with $1.4 billion under management, owns 12 percent of Ascletis.

Fu said the investment "lay the foundation for the company to grow" and accounted for more than half of Ascletis’s pre-IPO funding. C-Bridge has no plans for similar investments beyond China, he said.

While China’s pharmaceutical industry has produced at least 15 billionaires, as the country adopted rules for swift regulatory approvals, vaccine makers have become the target of a government crackdown after violations found at a manufacturer prompted a public outcry. Changsheng Bio-Technology Co. was fined this month for selling low-quality vaccines for infants and fabricating production and inspection data for a rabies vaccine.

To tackle the scandal, China’s securities regulator revised rules to suspend or delist companies involved in major illegal activities that include breaching production safety and public health.

Wu, who has U.S. citizenship, received a doctorate in cancer biology from the University of Arizona in 1996 after studying physiology at Nanjing University. Before founding Ascletis, he worked for Novartis AG, Ambrilia Biopharma Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

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