FiercePharmaAsia—AZ's COVID-hit China business; GSK's $3.7B Unilever stake sale; I-Mab eyes $2B deal

AstraZeneca's China business proved resilient in the first quarter, when the coronavirus outbreak was at its height in the country, but growth still slowed down. GlaxoSmithKline is reportedly planning to offload its $3.7 billion stake in Unilever India. China's I-Mab is said to be looking for a U.S. partner for its CD47 cancer drug in a deal potentially worth $2 billion. And more.

1. AstraZeneca, with a heavy focus on China, sees key meds outperform despite COVID-19

AstraZeneca is known for its high exposure to China. In the first quarter, when the COVID-19 outbreak was at its peak in the country, AZ’s sales growth there slowed down to 17% from 35% in 2019. But its sales of $1.41 billion as relative to AZ’s entire business held steady at 22%. The company resorted to a digital launch of PD-L1 inhibitor Imfinzi after its regulatory go-ahead in December.

2. After Horlicks sale, GSK plans to offload $3.7B stake in Unilever India: Bloomberg

GlaxoSmithKline is hastening its withdrawal from the consumer health market. The British pharma is planning to unload its 5.7% stake in Hindustan Unilever in India, which it picked up as part of its recent sale of Horlicks nutrition drinks. The stake is reportedly valued at $3.7 billion.

3. China's I-Mab seeks U.S. partner for $2B CD47 cancer deal (Bloomberg)

Nasdaq-listed Chinese biotech I-Mab is looking for a partner to jointly develop and sell its CD47 cancer antibody, TJC4, in the U.S. A potential deal could be worth as much as $2 billion, and the company aims to announce the partnership as early as the third quarter after it completes an ongoing U.S. phase 1 trial, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

4. Gilead's COVID-19 hopeful remdesivir may get swift Japanese approval: report

Japanese authorities plan to fast-track an approval of Gilead’s remdesivir in COVID-19 if the biotech files an application, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. An approval could come as early as May, Kyodo reported. The news came before the National Institutes of Health released data showing the antiviral cut recovery time for hospitalized patients by about 31% in a placebo-controlled study.

5. India ranks Roche’s Actemra, Fujifilm’s Avigan as most promising COVID-19 fighters (Times of India)

A drug repurposing task force convened by the Indian government ranked Fujifilm’s Avigan and Roche’s Actemra as showing the most promise in terms of readiness and potential to fight COVID-19 in the country among 19 existing drugs. Glenmark has won clearance to test its generic version of Avigan in the first clinical trial in India for a novel coronavirus therapy.

6. Takeda offloads $670M of European drugs as consumer health sale rumors resurface

Takeda has agreed to sell about 110 drugs in Europe as well as two manufacturing sites in Denmark and Poland to Danish company Orifarm for up to $670 million, inching closer to its goal of offloading $10 billion worth of non-core products. Meanwhile, Nikkei Asian Review reported that the Japanese pharma might look to sell its local consumer health unit for about $3.7 billion.

7. Harvard pens Astellas research deal, vowing to push on despite pandemic

Astellas has penned a three-year drug R&D alliance. Projects under the deal will be initiated by faculty at Harvard University upon “challenges” from Astellas based on the pharma’s research interest. They will span from studying the biological mechanisms of disease to identifying possible drug targets to generation and validation of new drug candidates.

8. India pharma manufacturing hub back up and running after COVID-19 lockdown: report

After a COVID-19 lockdown disrupted drug supply, Baddi, a manufacturing hub responsible for 35% to 40% of India’s pharmaceutical output, is back online. To help keep facilities running at full capacity, the Indian government has allowed migration of employees from other places to Baddi to help staff the plants.

9. Fujifilm sets aside manufacturing space for a possible Gates-funded COVID-19 therapy

CDMO Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies will devote some of its manufacturing capacity at its Denmark biologics plant for a possible COVID-19 therapy to be identified by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, an initiative co-launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal is to support manufacturing and dedicated supply for patients in lower-income countries.

10. FDA clears China’s Green Valley to test controversial Alzheimer’s drug in global phase 3 (release)

When China conditionally approved Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals’ seaweed-derived Alzheimer’s drug oligomannate (GV-971) last year, controversy swirled around its Chinese clinical data—or the lack thereof. Now, the company has secured a U.S. FDA go-ahead to run an international phase 3 across 200 sites to prove its case. The study’s expected to be completed in 2024 with a filing by 2025.

11. Takeda licenses ProThera plasma drug for use in inflammatory conditions

Takeda has signed a licensing deal for ProThera Biologics’ plasma-derived inter-alpha inhibitor proteins therapy for acute inflammatory conditions. ProThera, having spent nearly 20 years working on the platform, thinks the plasma proteins can dampen inflammation in the blood and tissues via multiple mechanisms.

12. China-U.S. biotech Denovo acquires Tocagen’s replicating gene therapy platform (release)

Chinese biotech Denovo Biopharma is acquiring Tocagen’s retroviral replicating vector platform, including investigational gene therapy Toca 511/Toca FC (now called DB107). The regimen previously failed miserably in a phase 3 recurrent high-grade glioma study. But Denovo sees benefits in subsets of patients, and it plans to search for genomic predictors of the drug’s potential efficacy.