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SK Biopharmaceuticals eyes W960b blockbuster IPO in July

CEO says its market debut unscathed by coronavirus; parent SK Holdings’ shares surge 9 percent

SK Biopharmaceuticals CEO Cho Jeong-woo speaks at a teleconference with reporters held Monday. (SK Biopharmaceuticals)
SK Biopharmaceuticals CEO Cho Jeong-woo speaks at a teleconference with reporters held Monday. (SK Biopharmaceuticals)
Seizure treatment developer SK Biopharmaceuticals said Monday it is planning what could be South Korea’s biggest initial public offering in three years, with hopes to raise nearly 1 trillion won ($822 million) in fresh funds.

Through its market debut on the nation’s main bourse Kospi, scheduled July 2 if the IPO ends in success, the drug development unit of Korea’s third-largest conglomerate SK plans to raise 959.34 billion won, which would be the largest fundraising attempt since Celltrion Healthcare’s listing in July 2017. The IPO will help it enhance its global expansion, it said, citing its US launch last month of Xcopri, a brand name of adult antiepilepsy treatment cenobamate.

The company added cenobamate to its sales lineup that mainly comprised sleep disorder drug solriamfetol, known with its brand name Sunosi.

Unlike solriamfetol, cenobamate will be sold directly in the US through the firm’s own sales network led by Sebby Borriello, chief commercial officer of US subsidiary SK Life Science, to maximize its profits.

SK Biopharmaceuticals CEO Cho Jeong-woo said cenobamate aims to pursue a 100-percent removal of epilepsy patients’ seizures.

According to its prospectus for its listing on Kospi, released earlier this month, the IPO proceeds will be used mainly to ramp up the marketing and production of cenobamate. The fresh capital will also add fuel to research and development of its commercial and clinical-stage drugs to cure epilipsy, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and rare neurological diseases, in its bid to address unmet medical needs in the US. SK Biopharmaceuticals plans to utilize the proceeds by 2021.

With high anticipation to the deal, the share price of SK Holdings soared 9 percent Monday. SK Biopharmaceuticals is wholly owned by SK Holdings, the holding company of energy-to-chipmaking conglomerate SK Group.

SK Biopharmaceuticals is looking to issue 13.3 million new shares and existing 6.3 million shares owned by parent SK Holdings up for fundraising via the IPO.

After its market debut, SK Holdings will control 75 percent stake. NH Investment & Securities and Citigroup Global Market Securities Korea are lead underwriters of the deal, and four more underwriters, including Morgan Stanley’s Seoul branch, are poised to participate.

The CEO dismissed market concerns over the lingering COVID-19 impact on the IPO drive, saying that the pandemic was not critical enough to put off the plan.

“We made an internal decision that there was no reason to put off our IPO plans,” said Cho.

“No matter how serious the coronavirus would be, those affected by epilepsy still suffer from seizures,” Cho said.

Headquartered in Pangyo, a technology hub in southern Gyeonggi Province, SK Biopharmaceuticals has presence in the United States and Shanghai.

SK Biopharmaceuticals logged a 71.5 billion won net loss and a 79.3 billion won operating loss in 2019.

Following a two-month hiatus due to the staggering coroanvirus impact, Korea’s IPO market is picking up speed since May. Pharmaceutical contract research service provider DreamCIS went public in May, while stem cell therapy firm SCM Life Science and screen inspection kit maker Leading Edge Technology have wrapped up their IPOs for June listing. Diagnostic kit maker Gencurix is receiving the retail investor subscription for its IPO.

Institutional investors’ subscriptions for SK Biopharmaceuticals shares are poised to take place from Wednesday to Thursday to determine the size of the IPO.

By Son Ji-hyoung (