Chinese startup with Merck vet at the helm acquires rights to Oyster Point's eye disease nasal spray
With the Chinese drug market starting to bear fruit, Western drugmakers have looked to wiggle their way in, often leaning on local partners to do the grunt work on the ground. With so many Chinese companies playing the willing host, a fledgling startup with a Merck veteran leading the way will now take on another Western partner of its own.
Ji Xing Pharmaceuticals has acquired the Greater Chinese rights to Oyster Point Pharma’s nasal spray for dry eye disease candidates OC-01 and OC-02 in exchange for $17.5 million in upfront cash and 0.75% equity in the emerging Chinese biotech, the partners said Thursday.
The deal comes with $204.8 million in biobucks and serves as the second Western partnership for Ji Xing, an RTW Investments-backed company headquartered in Shanghai that emerged from stealth last month with an undisclosed B round in hand.
The firm is helmed by Joe Romanelli, the former president of Merck China who oversaw the launch of 20 products in that region, including I/O superstar Keytruda and HPV vaccine Gardasil, which the biotech said was the biggest drug by revenue in China produced by a multinational.
During his four-year tenure with the New Jersey drugmaker, Romanelli oversaw its evolution from the seventh-largest multinational drugmaker operating in China to the second by the time he jumped ship.
“Stimulating natural tear film production may be a paradigm-changing way to treat dry eye disease, which affects more than 150 million patients in China,” Romanelli said about the Oyster Point deal. “We are excited to partner with the Oyster Point team, who are innovative pioneers focused on developing therapeutics for ophthalmic diseases, and bring both OC-01 and OC-02 to China.”
Ji Xing’s other Western partnership, a licensing deal with Milestone Pharmaceuticals, is also for a nasal spray, this time for paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia and other cardiovascular indications. The drug, dubbed etripamil, is currently in Phase III testing.