R&D Cooperation Between China and Western Pharma Companies Up 70 Percent
By Alex Keown
Without a doubt China has become one of the most important markets for pharma companies, given the vast patient population and the rising cancer rates. And it seems that western pharmaceutical companies are making greater inroads there.
According to an August report in the Financial Times, since 2012 research and development cooperation between U.S. companies and China are up 70 percent. The Chinese biopharma market is booming as more and more companies eye breaking into that rich market. With that increase in cooperation, there has also been an increase in patent approval in China – but the majority of those have been made by western companies in the Chinese market or were made by Chinese universities without an eye for commercialization. A recent report by IAM, an organization that tracks intellectual property news, noted that Chinese biotech innovation “has yet to make its stamp on the global market.” But that may be slowly changing as companies like BeiGene and WuXi Apptec make inroads into the western markets.
Earlier this month, China’s BeiGene teamed up with SpringWorks Therapeutics to develop therapeutics that will target advanced solid tumors that contain RAS mutations, as well as other MAPK aberrations. BioSpace reported that the companies will combine BeiGene’s investigational RAF dimer inhibitor, lifirafenib (BGB-283) and SpringWorks Therapeutics’ investigational MEK inhibitor, PD-0325901 in patients with advanced solid tumors. The first Phase Ib trial is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2019.
That’s not the only good news that BeiGene has posted. Earlier this summer BeiGene reported positive preliminary topline results from its Phase II trial of tislelizumab, the company’s investigational checkpoint inhibitor for relapsed/refractory classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma (R/R cHL). BeiGene’s investigational Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor zanubrutinib also snagged Fast Track designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of patients with Waldenström macroglobulinemia.
In August, WuXi’s subsidiary Shanghai SynTheAll Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., a contract development and manufacturing organization, secured a physical toehold in the United States, opening an operation site in San Diego that will provide process research and development as well as API manufacturing services for early phase clinical studies.
Not only is WuXi establishing a toehold for its CRO, the company has formed several partnerships with U.S. companies, including through investments, such as startups like Unity Biotechnology and Ideaya Biosciences, Inc. WuXi has also formed partnerships with western companies to do business in China. In April WuXi formed a partnership with Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics to develop treatments for cancer with the formation of a new Chinese company called JW Biotechnology Co., Ltd. The new Chinese company’s mission will be to build a cell therapy company in China through using Juno’s chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and T cell receptor (TCR) technologies in combination with WuXi AppTec’s R&D and manufacturing platform.
Juno isn’t the only company to grab its own toehold in China. In July, Roivant Sciences launched Sinovant Sciences in China with an aim at developing innovative treatments for some of China’s most pressing medical concerns. The company launched with four therapies suitable for Phase III clinical trial application or registration in China, including Derazantinib, a fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) inhibitor in Phase III development for the treatment of intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (iCCA), a form of liver cancer with high incidence in Greater China and no approved therapies globally.
Also in July, Takeda noted that its China program is its second-biggest business behind the United States. Takeda’s goal is to launch their medications in China as the same rate as they attempt in their other markets, including the U.S. and Europe. Takeda now regards China as a core country to its business practice.