China, Pharma, R&D

Harbour BioMed jumps into the crowded PD-1/L1 race, looking to take a Chinese asset global as checkpoint pipeline bulges

Can two Chinese biotechs vault a homegrown PD-L1 agent to frontrunner status in the crowded global checkpoint race?

Harbour BioMed thinks the answer is yes, and it’s willing to spend a total of $350 million to make that a reality.

Paying an unspecified upfront to Chengdu-based Kelun Biotech — with whom it already has an early-stage collaboration — Harbour grabs exclusive rights to develop, manufacturing and commercialize A167 outside of greater China. Harbour is headquartered in Shanghai with a Boston outpost.

In addition to sharing data from the Phase I and II trials it’s been conducting in China among patients with lymphoma and solid tumors, Kelun will also work with Harbour to explore any potential combination therapies — a hot strategy with checkpoint inhibitors. And all that will ideally form the basis of the development, regulatory and commercial milestones.

Jingsong Wang

“We plan to conduct A167-based combination trials globally by ourselves, including with innovative compounds we are developing, or in collaboration with our partners, to find better therapeutic options against a wide range of tumor types,” said CEO Jingsong Wang, a Sanofi R&D vet, in a statement.

A167 was one of 22 PD-1/L1 checkpoints data analytics firm PharmCube counted in its recent tally of Chinese biotech efforts in the field. And that fits into a global explosion of checkpoint studies, which the Cancer Research Institute estimated at 1,502 clinical trials (1,105 of those combos) involving 164 PD-1/L1 agents last December.

CRI warned that the gold rush on I/O was leading companies to jump into combo studies without much scientific backing. And the onrush of new PD-1/L1s in the clinic could have big implications for market leaders Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, which both enjoy blockbuster income from their checkpoints.

This marks the second licensing pact for Harbour this month, having just obtained China rights to a breast cancer drug targeting HER2 and CD3 from India’s Glenmark Pharmaceuticals days ago.

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