Victor Li’s CK Life partners Chinese medtech firm to develop cancer vaccines

The Hong Kong-listed healthcare company, a unit of CK Hutchison Group, and XtalPi aim to use an AI platform to discover and design preclinical tumour vaccine candidates.

CK Hutchison Group’s healthcare unit has joined forces with Chinese medical technology company XtalPi to develop a platform for cancer vaccine research and development.

Hong Kong-listed CK Life Sciences, chaired by tycoon Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, and XtalPi aim to use the platform to discover and design preclinical tumour vaccine candidates, according to a press release on Friday.

The platform “applies advanced AI algorithms and high-precision molecular modelling to predict and design a variety of tumour vaccines that can activate specific immune responses to kill tumours,” it said.

The deal is the latest partnership between an artificial intelligence-powered innovator and a traditional healthcare company, as AI adoption in the pharmaceutical sector accelerates. The AI-based drug discovery market is expected to grow to US$5.6 billion by 2029 from US$626.6 million last year, according to Polaris Market Research.

In the last three years, such collaborations have jumped in China, according to research by the Boston Consulting Group in April. There was one strategic tie-up in 2019, two in 2020 and four in 2021, BCG said.

XtalPi recently announced it will provide services to Xi’an Jassen Pharmaceutical, owned by the American giant Johnson & Johnson. XtalPi, established in 2015, is one of the rising Chinese AI drug discovery companies trying to catch up with their international peers which were founded as early as a decade ago.

Hong Kong-based Insilico Medicines, backed by WuXi AppTec and Qiming Venture Partners, unveiled a similar agreement worth up to US$1.2 billion with French healthcare giant Sanofi earlier this month.

Tumour vaccines work by activating an immune response against specific molecules expressed in tumour cells.

The segment holds promise, as cancer cases worldwide increase amid a lack of fast and effective treatments. The global cancer vaccine market will rise by a compound annual growth rate of 11.53 per cent to US$12 billion in 2026 from 2022, according to the press release, which cited Mordor Intelligence.

The partnership between CK Life Sciences and XtalPi came as Hong Kong and Shenzhen are working to deepen their collaboration in areas of technical innovation such as biotech. The neighbouring cities are co-developing the Hetao Shenzhen-Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone, where XtalPi is based, an area of 4 square kilometres encompassing parts of the Futian district of Shenzhen and some areas of neighbouring Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said in his first policy address last month that the city would speed up construction in the Hetao area and try to introduce more high-end talent to the region.

“As a company headquartered in the Hetao Shenzhen-Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone, XtalPi is committed to realising the synergies between Shenzhen and Hong Kong by creating a new paradigm for innovation in the Greater Bay Area,” said Shuhao Wen, co-founder and chairman of XtalPi. “We are confident that this collaboration will significantly facilitate the scientific research exchange in the Greater Bay Area.”