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People to Watch: Zhenhai Gao, of NiKang Therapeutics

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WILMINGTON – The greater Wilmington area is attracting a burgeoning growth of life science firms, many of which are investigating potential cancer treatments.

Incyte Corp. and Prelude Therapeutics are among the public companies grabbing headlines, but one quietly growing fast at the Delaware Innovation Space is NiKang Therapeutics, which some industry pundits believe is preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) of its own.

In June, it closed a $200 million Series C financing round, one of the largest such venture capital fundraisings in Delaware in recent memory and among the largest this year in the greater Philadelphia area. In November, the firm dosed its first patient in a trial for a small-molecule drug treating conditions that commonly arise from clear cell renal carcinoma, a kidney cancer. A few weeks later, it signed a clinical trial collaboration on the drug with Pfizer, using it in combination with the biopharma giant’s drugs in a trial.

Led by Zhenhai Gao, the firm’s co-founder, president & CEO, NiKang has already received backing from a number of high-profile bioscience venture capital firms, inked two different licensing deals on other drugs under development and attracted a number of experienced researchers and executives. Gao is also a veteran of Incyte Corp.’s cancer research work, which is also where Prelude Therapeutics CEO Kris Vaddi made his career.

Preclinical biopharma firms like NiKang have increasingly been listing publicly to raise new capital amid a hot stock market, and with the headwinds behind its recent successes, NiKang could be poised to be Delaware’s next public company in 2022.

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