FiercePharmaAsia—Astellas job cuts, GSK vet’s $260M Chinese startup, Sun's Zytiga knockoff

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Astellas, Brii Biosciences, Sun Pharma and Takeda made our news this week. (Google)

Astellas' new CEO is pushing for a round of layoffs in R&D and sales and marketing that will cost 600 jobs. GlaxoSmithKline's recent infectious disease lead Zhi Hong, an 11-year veteran of the company, has started a China-focused biotech with $260 million in financing and a trio of partnerships. Yonsa, Sun Pharma's branded drug with the same active ingredient included in Johnson & Johnson's Zytiga, won FDA approval as copycat makers are gearing up their generics.

1. Astellas cuts 600 positions in Japan as new CEO makes his mark | Astellas to halt work at R&D subsidiary amid restructuring plan

Astellas, under new CEO Kenji Yasukawa, is rolling out an early retirement incentive program aimed at cutting 600 positions in Japan in R&D and sales and marketing by the end of next March. The Japanese pharma plans to shut down its sales and marketing unit, terminate most of the activities at a human resources subsidiary and sell its CMC and analysis laboratories.

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2. GSK vet Zhi Hong launches Brii Biosciences with $260M

Zhi Hong, who recently led GlaxoSmithKline’s infectious disease business, has opened his own shop. Brii Biosciences, with $260 million in committed capital, is focused on bringing innovative medicines to China, and it's lined up its first projects and partners. Brii licensed up to four assets from Vir Biotechnologies’ pipeline, tapped WuXi AppTec and WuXi Biologics’ R&D capabilities and formed a partnership with Alibaba for a digital push.

3. Look out, J&J. Sun Pharma's Yonsa nod in prostate cancer puts Zytiga on notice

Sun Pharma won an FDA nod for Yonsa, which contains the same active ingredient as Johnson & Johnson’s blockbuster prostate cancer drug Zytiga, but in a formulation that doesn’t infringe J&J’s patents. Analysts anticipate a generic entry soon, thanks to a patent strike-down at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, despite J&J's promise to appeal.

4. Takeda divests Chinese JV for $280M after reaching Shire deal

Takeda sold its majority 51.34% stake in the Chinese company Techpool Bio-Pharma to its joint venture partner, Shanghai Pharma, for $280 million. The divesture comes as Takeda is looking for savings to lighten the $31 billion debt burden it just added from the $62 billion Shire buyout.

5. Danone, Nestle, KKR and more suit up for GSK consumer bidding war: report

GlaxoSmithKline has put its 72.5% stake in its Indian consumer health business on sale as it looks to fund the $13 billion acquisition of Novartis’ share in their consumer joint venture. Danone, Hundustan Unnilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Abbott, Mondelez and private equity firm KKR are all looking to pick up the business, which could be valued at $4 billion, according to The Economic Times.

6. Grail’s third VC round brings funding total to $1.5B

Grail has raised $300 million in an oversubscribed series C, bringing its total financing to more than $1.5 billion. A group of investors led by Chinese venture capital firms Ally Bridge, Hillhouse Capital and 6 Dimensions joined the round. President Ken Drazan said the Asia-heavy investor profile is a natural fit as the company plans to grow in the region.

7. China’s WuXi to build yet another biologics plant, this one with continuous manufacturing

WuXi Biologics announced a third new manufacturing site in less than a month. The Chinese CDMO said it will invest about $60 million in a plant, its 10th, in Singapore. The facility will include two 2,000-liter traditional bioreactors and one 500-liter bioreactor with continuous processing capabilities, and it will be able to handle both clinical and small-volume commercial production. 

8. With global supplies running short, stepped-up Chinese demand paralyzes Gardasil market in Hong Kong

Because of growing demand coming primarily from the Chinese mainland, Merck’s Gardasil 9 supply in Hong Kong is running low. Hundreds of women said they paid for the full three-dose regimen but were recently notified by clinics that they can’t complete the course because the vaccine was out of stock. The shortage has pushed up prices to twice the vaccine’s U.S. tag.

9. EMA pulls license of sterile drugmaker in Taiwan over critical plant violations

The European Medicines Agency, on the recommendation of U.K. officials, has pulled the license of Savior Lifetec Corp. in Taiwan after an inspection found it lacks basic knowledge of aseptic sterile processing. The agency has banned shipments from the drugmaker and recommends that it recall all batches of nonessential APIs from EU markets.