Published DATE: June 29, 2022
• Application for technical assessment in the third quarter at the earliest... Request for listing in March of next year
• iPSC, free from ethical controversies and effects at the level of embryonic stem cells
• Poor investment/policy environment compared to Japan… Government attention needed
• Policy-related understanding of iPSC also low... Relevant legislation must be enacted
NEXEL, a company specializing in human-induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology, has set this year as its first year of making full-scale steps forward. Starting with the recent entry into phase 1 of clinical trials in Australia for myocardial infarction treatment candidates, the company plans to apply for a technical assessment for listing on KOSDAQ during the second half of the year. Its goal is to lead the market by becoming the first listed company in Korea for biotech specializing in iPSC.
Choongseong Han, CEO of NEXEL
In an interview with EDAILY at the headquarters of NEXEL in Gangseo-gu, Seoul on the 27th, CEO Choongseong Han stated, “At this point, at which the global iPSC market is just starting to grow, we plan to enter the market after completing the IPO process and solidify NEXEL’s position as the leading iPSC company before competitors enter both the domestic and foreign markets.”
iPSCs, also called induced pluripotent stem cells, are stem cells that insert a specific gene to turn back a cell’s time. They are also known as “dedifferentiated stem cells” because they are dedifferentiated from the patient's own body cells into stem cells. The advantage of these cells is that they can be easily used for people that need them. They can differentiate into any cell, and once made, proliferate indefinitely with uniform quality.
The properties and effects of iPSCs are superior to those of adult stem cells and similar to those of embryonic stem cells. However, because egg cells are not required in the production process, iPSCs are free from the ethical controversies that surround embryonic stem cells. As they are made from the patient’s own cells, they are generally safe from immune rejection. This is why iPSCs are considered next-generation technology in the field of cell therapy. Due to the low differentiation efficiency and high costs, the adult stem cell market has occupied the largest part of the global stem cell market so far. However, CEO Han explained that in the long term, the market will develop centered on iPSCs.
Among the companies listed in Korea, there are no bio companies based on iPSC technology. CEO Han plans to attempt an IPO in the first half of next year. He explained, “We plan to apply for a technical assessment in September or October. Once the audit report is released in the first quarter of next year, we plan to request a listing review from Korea Exchange around March or April next year based on the results of the technical assessment and the audit report.”
CEO Han is somewhat disappointed by the lack of interest on the government’s part despite the great potential of the iPSC technology. On the other hand, Japan, which is a country known for its stem cell research and which won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for producing the first iPSC, has its government actively investing in iPSC research. Professor Shinya Yamanaka, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Japan for his work on iPSCs, is currently the director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University. CEO Han continued to express his concerns, adding that, “The Japanese government has invested more than KRW 1 trillion won in just Professor Yamanaka’s research, which is more than the total national research funds that Korea invests in overall iPSC research,” and that, “Unlike here in Korea, Japan is open to iPSCs to the extent that a hospital can administer stem cells to patients on its own if certain criteria are met.”
CEO Han also noted, “Compared to the poor conditions that it finds itself in, Korea’s status in the global iPSC field is fairly high, raking at around 4th or 5th place.” He added, “Having just the current Act on the Safety of and Support for Advanced Regenerative Medicine and Advanced Biological Products alone has many shortcomings, so for Korea to catch up with the US and Japan, legislation that will actively promote research and treatment must be enacted,” and that, “As President Yoon said, ‘We must put forth our lives to nurture new talent.’ The bio-industry, and furthermore, the iPSC field, requires the same amount of attention that is paid to the semiconductor industry.”
On the over-the-counter stock trading platform 38 Communication, NEXEL stocks are being traded in the range of KRW 25,000 to 28,000 this month. In February and March they were traded between KRW 20,000 and 23,000, but the stock prices rose sharply as the IPO plans were announced. Based on the estimated pre-IPO funding price of KRW 25,900, the market cap is KRW 139.8 billion.
CEO Han dreams of making steps forward beyond just Korea and into the global market. The IPO is the starting point for this dream. “We are the first and only company in Korea to commercialize an iPSC technology-based business model. Before iPSC becomes a ‘trend’, we plan to increase global recognition and solidify our place in the market.”