Eli Lilly vet Kerry Blanchard takes the helm at one of China's top dealmakers, steering toward first approvals
As Big Pharma operations in China continue to bleed talent to local biotech startups, an Eli Lilly vet is taking on his first CEO role at one of the companies honing the model of in-licensing late-stage Western drugs and tailor-making development programs for the Chinese market.
Everest Medicines has kept a relatively low profile, but in its two-plus years of existence it’s earned a spot as one of the top dealmakers, making a splash last April by paying a record $60 million upfront for Immunomedics’ breast cancer drug. Kerry Blanchard is now tasked with steering its eight assets to China approvals, with four registration trials underway and two more planned later this year.
“I have been aware of Everest Medicine since its inception in 2017,” Blanchard told Endpoints News. “I was attracted by their concept of focusing on truly innovative medicines that are global first in class or best in class assets. I believe the time for first in class or best in class in only China is rapidly coming to an end. Everest’s model is a model for the future; for the new era of innovation in China.”
The drug candidates span oncology, immunology, cardio-renal disease and infectious disease.
Everest is handling trials for eravacycline (antibiotic from Tetraphase) in complicated intra-abdominal infection and etrasimod (S1P receptor modulator from Arena) in ulcerative colitis on its own, Blanchard said.
Meanwhile, the company will also participate in global trials — where China typically contributes 15%-20% of patients — in the two other programs: VNRX-5133 (antibiotic from VenatoRX) in complicated urinary tract infections and ralinepag (from Arena) in pulmonary arterial hypertension.
Submitting overseas data for a China approval, once a foreign idea, is now common practice at the reformed National Medical Products Administration.
“If we can, we prefer to join global registration trials, but in some instances based on timing or the geographic difference we will perform local or regional registration trials,” Blanchard said.
One NDA — though they didn’t specify which one — is also in the road map for 2020.
The CBC Group — the powerhouse private equity player formerly known as C-Bridge Capital — put the company together. Blanchard joined CBC group a few months ago as an operating partner after a brief stint at Innovent helping push their PD-1 sintilimab over the finish line. And before that, he spent eight years leading China drug development for Lilly (which partnered with Innovent on sintilimab) as part of a 17-year career at the pharma giant.
Blanchard, who takes over from CBC managing director Sean Cao, said his priorities also include growing the team from 100 to 200.
“Competition for talent is always a challenge, and especially so in China,” he said. “The market is very hot and talented people have many options.”
Then there’s the challenge of getting Everest ready for commercialization, where Wende Chan — who recently jumped from Roche to become Everest’s chief commercial officer — will play a major role.
Amid a new focus on discovering truly made-in-China medicines, Blanchard hinted that he will explore strategic opportunities outside the kind of late-stage regional licensing they’re most familiar with.
“In the near future we expect our BD activities to expand to include more earlier-stage assets, where we can leverage China’s vast clinical resources,” Ian Woo, president, and CFO added. “Longer term, we plan to create sustainability by building out discovery capabilities.”