Biohit Targets China as Key Market for Cancer-PreventionKati Pohjanpalo
Biohit Oyj, the Finnish health-care company whose shares have gained 71 percent this year, sees China as a promising market for the Acetium product to prevent stomach cancer, Chief Executive Officer Semi Korpela said.
Biohit is working to register Acetium in China and already has a distribution partner, Grand Pharmaceutical Co., Korpela said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Helsinki. The capsule reduces the amount of the cancer-causing substance acetaldehyde in people whose stomachs can’t process it. Acetaldehyde is present in food such fruits and is also a byproduct of consuming alcohol.
A genetic mutation common among east Asian people inhibits their ability to process acetaldehyde, Korpela said. Half the world’s stomach cancer cases occur in eastern Asia, mainly in China, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. The potential market for Acetium spans the 500 million people worldwide who have low acid levels, according to the company’s estimates.
“China is very interesting to us, much more interesting than western Europe,” Korpela said. “The prevalence of gastrointestinal cancers in Asia is also because of the diet. Soy sauce with high acetaldehyde levels adds to their exposure.”
Biohit shares rose 0.3 percent to close at 6.83 euros in Helsinki, valuing the company at 93 million euros ($121 million).
The company also sells Gastropanel, a test used to diagnose infections with Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes low stomach acid levels and exposes patients to acetaldehyde. H. pylori infection has been linked to stomach cancer.
“We’re in the early stages,” Korpela said. “Registration of products has only been completed in the European Union, representing only a fraction of all filings” for regulatory approval.
Strands of the bacterium vary by region, he said. In some areas in eastern Turkey, more than 90 percent carry the bacteria and the strand is more virulent, while in Scandinavia about 15 percent of people are affected by the organism in its less potent form, according to Korpela.
The company’s first-quarter net loss widened to 1 million euros, its fifth consecutive quarter of losses. Even so, sales grew to 600,000 euros from 400,000 euros. Biohit said it would become profitable next year.
“That sales growth came despite registrations not being completed yet,” Korpela said. “Our direction is absolutely clear and we’re doing the right things.”