InnoCare bags Chinese rights to Incyte CAR-T rival Monjuvi in bid to expand in-house pipeline
Merck veteran Jasmine Cui has turned Beijing-based InnoCare into a $4 billion company largely on the strength of a single BTK inhibitor and a clutch of earlier stage assets.
But on Tuesday, the biotech expanded its pipeline, striking a deal with Incyte for the Delaware biotech’s newly US-approved CD-19 antibody Monjuvi. Under the agreement, InnoCare will pay Incyte $35 million and promise $82.5 million in milestones for rights to market the cancer drug in China and its surrounding regions.
The new partnership represents an expansion of sorts for InnoCare. The eight-year-old biotech quickly ascended the ranks of Chinese pharma by developing its own molecules from scratch, a departure from the old model of in-licensing established drugs from companies in the US and Europe.
That effort has largely been fruitful. Its BTK inhibitor, orelabrutinib, gained Chinese approval for two blood cancers and entered Phase I or Phase II testing for several others. Last month, Biogen paid $125 million cash to license orelabrutinib for the US market, betting that because it can cross the blood-brain barrier, the drug could prove a potent therapy for multiple sclerosis.
Now, though, InnoCare is going in the opposite direction, licensing in a proven US drug. In doing so, they’re joining other research-centric Chinese biotechs like Hutchmed that, having established their own ability to build a pipeline, are now complementing it with molecules from other countries.
And the company has good reason to add Monjuvi. In addition to the drug’s efficacy alone — a safer and easier-to-administer rival to Kymriah and other first-generation CAR-Ts, the antibody showed a 55% overall response rate and a 37% complete response rate in refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma — InnoCare also plans on testing Monjuvi in combination with the BTK blocker.
It will join orelabrutinib and early stage FGFR and TRK inhibitors in the company’s growing portfolio.
“The strategic collaboration with Incyte will not only enhance our strength in the field of hematology and oncology, but also offer us good opportunity to explore the potential clinical benefit of our BTK inhibitor orelabrutinib in combination with tafasitamab,” Cui said in a statement, using the chemical name for Monjuvi. “In addition, we believe that tafasitamab, an innovative CD19 antibody, is critical to solidifying our long-term strategy to strengthen our large molecule capabilities and to enhance combinational therapies with our existing pipelines.”