Singapore's Esco Lifesciences gets $200 million from global investors, fuels IPO talk

31, May. 2021

Following the success of its biological safety cabinets, Esco Lifesciences group established Esco Pharma in 2009 to expand its repertoire of life sciences tools. It subsequently launched medical, medtech and biotech divisions. Esco is also participating in COVID-19 relief efforts. (Photo: Esco Lifesciences)
Following the success of its biological safety cabinets, Esco Lifesciences group established Esco Pharma in 2009 to expand its repertoire of life sciences tools. It subsequently launched medical, medtech and biotech divisions. Esco is also participating in COVID-19 relief efforts. (Photo: Esco Lifesciences)

SINGAPORE, NNA - Singapore-based Esco Lifesciences Group has raised $200 million in its first significant round of financing to fund a global expansion, while sparking speculation of a public listing at the same time.

Billed as a crossover round, the oversubscribed Series A investment was led by global investors Vivo Capital and Novo Holdings A/S.

It also saw the participation of Chinese sovereign fund China Investment Corp., Singapore-based global investor EDBI and "other sophisticated investors", according to a press release by Esco, a life sciences tools and services company which began as a family business dealing in cleanroom technology in 1978.

Led by its second generation since 2011, Esco will now embark on its third phase of development by acquiring businesses across the world and growing its business further in the huge China market.

As a world-leading manufacturer of laboratory and bio-pharmaceutical equipment and IVF medical devices, Esco said it is poised to benefit from the sustained growth of the healthcare and bio-pharmaceutical industries in Asia and globally after having achieved leadership in multiple product categories.

It offers mission-critical equipment and advanced solutions to a broad diversity of laboratories, clinics and bio-pharma production sites in over 100 countries. Esco has direct sales and service offices in over 20 countries, eight manufacturing and R&D hubs in the US, Europe, the UK, China and Singapore.

The Series A investment is seen as the largest private financing round by an Asia-based life sciences tools company. There is talk that Esco might go for a listing in Hong Kong this year to capitalize on the fast-growing market in China.

In the press statement, Lin Xiangqian, Esco chairman and CEO, said, "This is a significant milestone for the company as we embark on our Esco 3.0 transformation, which primarily involves strategic bolt-on M&A and expedited expansion in China, our priority market, to maintain the strong revenue growth we have achieved over the last decade."

The new financing will also enable the creation of an innovation hub in Boston to focus on cell and gene therapy tools and technologies, said Lin, who is a son of co-founder and current executive director Lim Lay Yew.

Lin added, "We will increase our R&D and in-licensing efforts to develop and commercialize novel life science research tools in emerging domains, thus enabling fundamental scientific discoveries and, ultimately, the diagnostics and medicines of tomorrow."

As a supplier of bio-safety cabinets for handling pathogens and chiller units to store vaccines, Esco has also played a role in dealing with the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In Singapore, Esco Aster, a contract development and manufacturing arm of the Esco group of companies, is among the local biotech players to produce raw materials for PCR test kits, which detect the presence of viral genetic material in Covid patient samples, verifying that a patient is currently infected.

Said Esco, "Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Esco continues to support our customers with an undisrupted supply of products and services. Thousands of biosafety cabinets, PCR cabinets, freezers, and other COVID-related equipment were installed and serviced by Esco across the globe."

Esco, which recorded $115 million in revenue in 2020, is also one of the world’s first laboratory equipment manufacturers to incorporate a proprietary antimicrobial coating which can eliminate 99.99 percent of surface bacteria on surfaces of equipment within 24 hours.

Last year, Lin, who is also founding CEO of Carmine Therapeutics and managing partner of Esco Ventures, inked an agreement with Takeda Pharmaceutical to collaborate on the development and sale of rare disease gene therapies.

Shan Fu, managing partner and CEO of Greater China at Vivo Capital, who has become an Esco board member, said the investor consortium will work together to leverage their healthcare sector resources to accelerate Esco's next phase of global growth. They will support the company's business development efforts and increase investments in R&D and technology development, he said.

Headquartered in California, Vivo Capital is a leading healthcare investment firm with $5.8 billion in assets under management and has invested in over 290 public and private companies worldwide.

Taking a stake in Esco is a milestone step for Novo Holdings which is expanding ambitions in Asia.

Kasim Kutay, CEO of Novo Holdings, said, "The opportunities for growth and expansion at Esco are significant and we look forward to bringing to bear our patient capital and life science expertise to the realization of the company's strategy."

Amit Kakar, senior partner and head of Novo Holdings Asia, who is also an Esco board member now, said Novo established its Asia presence with the opening of a Singapore office in January this year.

"Our investment in Esco is a very important milestone in the development of our regional ambitions," he said.

Based in Denmark, Novo Holdings is recognized as a leading life science investor with a focus on creating long-term value. Very recently, it also made significant investments in Numab Therapeutics and Hummingbird Bioscience.