Pfizer hands LianBio $70M to tag along Perceptive's China play, with an eye to beefing up regional portfolio
When Perceptive unveiled its carefully curated syndicate for LianBio’s $310 million Series A, Pfizer stood out as the only pharma amid a marquee group of VCs. It turns out that the drugmaker wasn’t only looking to share the fruits of LianBio’s labor, it also wants to get down into the trenches.
Pfizer has put an additional $70 million on the table for LianBio — which Perceptive set out to shape into a “best-in-class sourcing and development engine” in China — to in-license programs that they can then co-develop. If a drug reaches the market, Pfizer will be first in line to negotiate for standalone commercial deals.
Having just recently signed off on a $480 million collaboration to develop and commercialize CStone’s PD-1 in China, Doug Giordano, SVP of Pfizer worldwide business development, said the new deal expands its “ability to partner across the biotech ecosystem” and deliver medical breakthroughs to Chinese patients.
“We’ve heard this repeatedly from Big Pharmas over the years that they get programs coming down from global but there’s often not as much emphasis and little activity at the regional level for business development,” Debra Yu, LianBio’s president/CBO and a Pfizer alum, told Endpoints News.
For LianBio, the alliance doesn’t just offer heavyweight endorsement of its model but also a way to tap into commercial infrastructure that Pfizer has built over a decade.
Konstantin Poukalov, managing director at Perceptive and executive chairman at LianBio, noted that the in-kind help that Pfizer has committed might just be as important as the cash. From clinical trial expertise — Pfizer has 60-plus studies underway in the country — and KOL network to creating market access and dealing with the reimbursement process, the pharma giant brings significant knowledge and capacity to the pact.
In particular, he adds, LianBio will be presenting to Pfizer assets that require a large, spread-out sales force to cover vast geographical regions. Assets that are more targeted around specific centers of care are more likely to be handled by the 30-plus LianBio staffers (they’re still recruiting) CEO Bing Li is leading in Shanghai and Beijing.
As Yu scouts new deals with her New Jersey-based team, she believes having Pfizer on board would convince biotech partners that by licensing China rights to LianBio they will get the “best of both worlds.”
“It’s a very special kind of bespoke creative partnership that benefits all the three parties that are involved,” she said.
Previously, Lian’s pitches mainly revolved around detailed market analyses and tailor-made development proposals that BridgeBio CEO Neil Kumar has praised as creative. For $26.5 million in near-term payments, he handed over two targeted cancer drug candidates and gave away preferential future access to programs across his subsidiaries’ portfolio.
MyoKardia, meanwhile, provided Lian with its first cardio drug before Bristol Myers Squibb bought it for $13 billion. Lian paid $40 million upfront for mavacamten and is on the hook for another $147.5 million.
While Lian doesn’t envision doing another deal like the Pfizer one — electing instead to prioritize finding new drugs for its pipeline — Poukalov believes other pharma giants are similarly looking for ways to get their hands on drugs they may not otherwise have access to.
“Just like you’ve seen in AstraZeneca’s case where they were able to do regional specific deals to drive regional revenue, I think that’s top of mind for a lot of other MNCs that are trying to evolve and really kind of continue to anchor their position in the marketplace,” Poukalov said.