China's Innovent Biologics deepens pact with Eli Lilly on immuno-oncology

China's Innovent Biologics has deepened a pact with Eli Lilly ($LLY) by including immuno-oncology bispecific antibodies for Innovent in Greater China and for the Indianapolis-based firm outside of the country, setting a new benchmark in a white-hot area of collaboration deals.

Under the terms, the companies will work to develop and commercialize as many as three anti-PD-1-based bispecific antibodies for cancer treatments over the next decade, according to a press release.

In March, Lilly and Innovent Biologics agreed to co-develop at least three experimental cancer drugs--including one from Lilly's research labs and two from Innovent--in a deal that saw Lilly pay $56 million upfront.

Innovent, a four-year-old startup near Shanghai, represents a new breed of Chinese biotech with a sharp focus on cancer therapies, joined by firms like China oncology biotech BeiGene which last week snapped up Changzhen Wu to head a manufacturing operation that is in the process of outfitting a major facility in Suzhou, building on another key hire snatched from WuXi AppTec ($WX) to build out a formidable team.

The Innovent deal earlier this year caught attention for the size and scope and also fits in with an official push on cancer therapies that saw a proposal for a 60-day IND period for clinical trials in the area.

The March deal also paved the way for broader ties, allowing Lilly to exercise its rights to develop, manufacture and commercialize the potential cancer treatments outside of China, as well as for Innovent to do the same in China, though subject to a Lilly opt-in right for co-development and commercialization, according to the release, with potential additional milestones for Innovent.

Lilly will create the three preclinical anti-PD-1 based bispecific antibodies using an antibody sequence contributed by Innovent, the release said.

Eli Lilly's Greg Plowman

"We believe that combination therapy in immuno-oncology has the potential to transform the way cancer is treated," Greg Plowman, vice president of oncology research at Lilly, said in a statement. "We are pleased to be expanding our collaboration with Innovent to further the development of potential therapies for those fighting cancer in China and around the world."

Innovent raised $100 million in a financing round that closed in January, signaling to many firms and investors that the biotech industry may be set to explode in a country about to invest $6.45 billion in startups.

The week before Innovent's announcement, the China State Council, the country's cabinet, decided to shift from government control of investments to a more capitalistic style to draw venture capital investments in healthcare and other industries. The Council approved a plan that would phase in over the next three years, through 2017.

Other firms of note in the space include China's Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine which in September said it will invest as much as $240 million to build a biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Jiangsu Province that will be able to export products once completed. Earlier the same month, Jiangsu Hengrui signed a deal with U.S.-based Incyte ($INCY) that could be worth as much as $795 million with milestones to out license rights outside of Greater China for its clinical-stage anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody candidate.

Incyte paid $25 million upfront for a candidate that Hengrui has previously said it expects to enter a Phase II trial in patients with solid tumor cancers by the end of the year. In July, the company signed a deal with China-based cancer diagnostics company Shuwen Biotech to work on development of a companion diagnostic for an unspecified Hengrui cancer treatment.

- here's the release

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