Lilly, Incyte-allied Chinese drugmaker Innovent bags Roche as partner in deal that could yield billions
China’s biologic powerhouse Innovent has snagged another illustrious partner: Roche.
The company — which made its public debut on Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2018 raising a whopping $421 million — is already collaborating with a host of key biopharma and academic groups such as Eli Lilly, Incyte and the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Now, Innovent has inked a deal with Roche that grants it access to the Swiss drugmaker’s bispecific antibody and CAR-T technology.
Harnessing these platforms, Innovent is tasked with discovering, developing and commercializing bispecific antibodies and cell therapies for use in hematological and solid cancers. Roche will have the option right to license each product for ex-China development and commercialization. If those options are exercised, the 1896-founded drugmaker will be on the hook for $140 million, plus additional milestone payments up to $1.96 billion if the drugs are successfully developed and commercialized. Innovent will also be eligible for royalties over and above that meaty figure.
Roche, the world’s biggest diagnostic maker, has a large oncology portfolio — 6 out of 10 of its topselling drugs last year were cancer therapies, including its older Avastin and Herceptin therapies as well as newer offerings such as Tecentriq and Kadcyla. Roche has been carving out niche approvals for its blockbuster checkpoint inhibitor Tecentriq, as it plays catch up the market-leading drugs from Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb. But its plan to consolidate its position in the field rests on its second-generation checkpoint inhibitor. The company’s anti-TIGIT molecule tiragolumab, which is tracking ahead of its rivals, should give the company an edge over existing therapies, although so far, data have been mixed.
Innovent, meanwhile, was the first drugmaker to get a homegrown Chinese checkpoint inhibitor across the finish line in the country — in late 2018, the Lilly-partnered PD-1 agent Tyvyt (sintilimab) scored approval for patients with relapsed/refractory classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The company is a prominent member of a pack of Chinese biotech firms that have mushroomed to cater to the skyrocketing rates of cancer in the region and have lured millions in venture funding and public listings.
The Suzhou-based company has a brimming pipeline with 23 experimental therapies under investigation for use in a raft of diseases, including cancer, metabolic and autoimmune disorders. Last year, Lilly expanded its partnership with Innovent by out-licensing a slice of its diabetes pipeline, a franchise that has produced the Indianapolis-based drugmaker’s bestselling drugs Trulicity and Humalog. In late 2018, Innovent parted with $40 million in cash for China rights to three experimental Incyte drugs under development for different cancers and graft versus host disease.