UPDATED: Perceptive's $310M US/China play woos new CEO from Eli Lilly's top-speed bamlanivimab team
For any fledgling biotech, recruiting the right CEO is crucial. But it’s an especially tough find for the new generation of cross-border startups with global ambitions.
Ideally, you want someone who is ready to blaze a speedy path from clinical development to launch and be well-equipped to manage the product life cycle — which requires a level of insider knowledge about how US and European companies operate and how to navigate regulatory and commercialization landscapes in China.
LianBio had it in their founding CEO Bing Li. Weeks after Li quietly left, the Perceptive-founded company has hired his successor out of Eli Lilly.
Yizhe Wang spent the last year in Indianapolis as global platform lead for anti-Covid therapy at Lilly Research Lab, coordinating discovery, development and launch of bamlanivimab. Before that, he was with Lilly Oncology China in Shanghai, where he first moved from Philadelphia while working for GlaxoSmithKline’s marketing team.
All those years of experience translated to “proven leadership guiding late-stage assets to market in China,” said executive chairman and Perceptive managing director Konstantin Poukalov. The transition was planned to fit with LianBio’s next phase of growth, which involves several Phase III trial initiations over the next year and a half.
“Yizhe is someone with transactional experience, development experience, and importantly also commercial experience,” said Debra Yu, LianBio’s president and chief business officer. She and Li were the first employees. “I think he launched like seven drugs in China doing NRDL negotiations. Over this whole time he’s overseen the commercialization of like 20 different drugs.”
As LianBio joins a small but growing cadre of well-connected players scrambling for cutting-edge late-stage drugs to bring to China, people with résumés like Wang’s are in hot demand. Just days ago, Lonnie Moulder tapped Hua Mu to helm his immunology startup, prying a key founding exec away from Overland — Hillhouse’s own US/China play. Everest Medicines (which was founded by the CBC Group) landed another Lilly vet, Kerry Blanchard, for its top job.
The basic in-licensing concept is not new. In fact, pioneers like Zai Lab and BeiGene have popularized the model so much that competition for assets has intensified. It is against this background that the next wave has cropped up — promising even more resources, business development prowess, negotiating power, clinical plans and relevant infrastructure, often not just within Chinese borders but also in Asia more broadly.
The backing from Perceptive and the “bespoke” plans they hammer out for every asset drives much of what LianBio does, Yu said. As a former venture capitalist and seasoned dealmaker, she’s also surprised at how many more US biotechs are now willing, if not eager, to pursue the China market.
“Everyone’s doing it a little bit differently,” she said, adding: “On one hand, yeah the best deals of course are competitive, but also the pool of available, really strong programs, is increasing. And so as more players come in, and the pool is bigger, it’s not necessarily driving up the prices.”
Aside from assisting with the alliance management — including an unconventional pact with Pfizer — Wang will be tasked with steering drugs from those anchoring partnerships ahead, including mavacamten from MyoKardia, infigratinib and BBP-398 from BridgeBio, sisunatovir from ReViral, and TP-03 from Tarsus.