Lilly forges ties with Chinese biotech in cancer

Eli Lilly has signed a cross-licensing deal with Innovent Biologics that is believed to be one of the largest alliances between a Big Pharma company and a Chinese biotech.

The collaboration – which includes a $56 million upfront payment to Innovent and could be worth more than $450 million with milestones – is geared towards the development of at least three cancer therapies over the next decade, according to the partners.

The deal marks the continued emergence of China as a source of new drug candidates in addition to its long-established role as a provider of manufacturing and development services, with Lilly taking rights to three drugs developed by Innovent and bringing one candidate of its own to the table.

Lilly is contributing its cMet monoclonal antibody for possible treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) for development in China – retaining sole rights elsewhere – while Innovent is stumping up an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody about to start phase I trials in blood cancers as well as immuno-oncology candidates in preclinical development.

The deal boosts Lilly’s portfolio in immuno-oncology drugs, which are considered to be a major new category in cancer therapy but one in which Lilly has been present largely via collaborations with the likes of Merck & Co, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Immunocore.

Under the terms of the agreement, Innovent will lead the development and manufacturing of the partnered candidates within China, while Lilly will take primary commercial responsibility.

China remains a key market for the global pharma industry, valued at just under $100 billion last year and expected to grow around 13 per cent in 2015, according to data from Business Monitor International (BMI).

The domestic pharma market continues to grow despite China’s economic slowdown, boosted by “improvement in healthcare access, liberalisation of the industry as well as an epidemiological transition towards chronic diseases”.

For Innovent, which was only formed in 2011, the collaboration with Lilly gives it a fast-track to expanding its own commercial presence with co-promotion rights in China bundled into the deal.

“This groundbreaking collaboration establishes Innovent as the very first company in China to form such a broad alliance with a global pharmaceutical company,” said the company’s president and chief executive Michael Yu.

“Given our experience, significant insights into the China market and international compliance standards, we strongly believe Innovent is ideally suited to serve as Lilly’s Chinese collaborator of choice,” he added.

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