Two of China's top PD-(L)1 players team up on CTLA-4 in $200M deal
Now that the PD-(L)1 craze has (largely) swept through China, resulting in the approval of more than a dozen drugs with more to come, two of the top domestic oncology players are teaming up to go after the other checkpoint target.
Hengrui is licensing exclusive China rights to CStone’s CTLA-4 inhibitor, CS1002, in a deal worth up to $200 million, which covers research, development, registration, manufacturing and commercialization.
CStone is keeping the rest of world rights to itself — in this case meaning outside “Greater China.”
Even though Chinese drug developers have been scouting global partners to co-develop and sell their homegrown drugs outside of China with fervor, tie-ups between local biopharma companies are still uncommon.
The PD-(L)1 drugs from Hengrui and CStone have each earned the favor of US-based companies, with Incyte grabbing Hengrui’s camrelizumab as early as 2015 (before ultimately dropping it) and EQRx picking up CStone’s sugemalimab more recently.
The new partners note that despite the early discovery of CTLA-4 — Jim Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded the Nobel Prize for it — and all the clinical validation of it as an I/O target, only one anti-CTLA-4 antibody has been approved globally (including in China). Without naming Yervoy, they added that the drug made $1.69 billion in 2020.
“As a leading global China pharmaceutical company with an extensive oncology pipeline and strong integrated capabilities in commercialization, we are very confident that Hengrui will bring the full potentialities of CS1002 into the Greater China market,” CStone CEO Frank Jiang said in a statement.
While CStone has a partnership with Blueprint Medicines to market two of its targeted cancer therapies in China, it does not have any commercial drug of its own.
Citing results from an ongoing Phase Ia/Ib study, CStone touted how the combination of CS1002 and CS1003, a PD-1 blocker, was well-tolerated and demonstrated “very encouraging efficacy” in PD-(L)1-refractory melanoma and hepatocellular carcinoma, as well as PD-(L)1-naïve, pretreated microsatellite instability high/deficient mismatch repair (MSI-H/dMMR) tumors.
While other CTLA-4 drugs have spurred concerns with toxicity or lack of efficacy, Lianshan Zhang, Hengrui’s president of R&D, expressed faith that CS1002’s “differentiated dosing schedules” will make it a backbone I/O asset.