Samantha Du's Zai Lab inks surprising research collab with Schrödinger for DNA damage drug
Headed by Samantha Du, Chinese oncology specialist Zai Lab has made no qualms about its aggressive in-licensing strategy to drive Western drugs into regional markets. That strategy has been profitable so far, but that doesn’t mean Du’s team isn’t willing to try something new.
In a surprising volte-face, Zai Lab has signed its name to a research collaboration with physics-based discovery outfit Schrödinger looking for an oncology candidate targeting the DNA damage repair pathway, the partners said Wednesday.
It’s something outside the norm for Zai Lab and a sign the company is looking to build beyond the license-to-sell strategy in China that has made it famous among Western drugmakers. Schrödinger and Zai Lab will split lab duties with the latter ponying up an undisclosed upfront payment for Schrödinger’s efforts.
Meanwhile, Schrödinger has the option to jump in on co-development efforts for the potential drug as well as rights to 50% of profits down the road. The discovery specialist could also be due $338 million in biobucks and royalties on sales outside the US.
With all those stipulations considered, it’s a rich deal for Schrödinger, which has earned big-name backers for its drug discovery software, as well as an opportunity to refine its development chops.
“The structure of this collaboration provides us with the opportunity to gain development and commercial expertise and the potential to participate more significantly in the downstream value of the program,” Karen Akinsanya, chief biomedical scientist and head of discovery R&D at Schrödinger, said in a statement.
The last time we saw Zai Lab, in June, Du’s outfit signed a licensing pact with California’s MacroGenics for up to four bispecific antibodies that came with $55 million in upfront cash and equity as well as $1.4 billion in biobucks. The collaboration’s lead program targets both the CD3 protein and an “undisclosed target that is expressed in multiple solid tumors,” the companies said at the time.
The MacroGenics pact was only the latest in Zai Lab’s aggressive plans. Earlier in June, Mirati joined the party signing a licensing pact worth $65 million in cash and $273 million in biobucks for its KRAS hopeful adagrasib.
In April, Zai Lab said it would raise $750 million from a US depository share offering to fuel its aggressive licensing strategy. Du’s company in April inked a deal with argenx worth a cool $175 million for regional rights to autoimmune drug efgartigimod in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Zai Lab is also the exclusive Chinese license holder for Amgen’s anti-FGFR2b bemarituzumab, which just earned the FDA’s breakthrough designation in gastric cancer. The molecule came over as part of Amgen’s acquisition of Five Prime in March.