FiercePharmaAsia—COVID-19 hackers; Zai Lab's new R&D exec from Roche; Daiichi's unified oncology unit

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COVID-19 hackers, Zai Lab and Daiichi Sankyo made our news this week. (Google)

After the holiday break, we're giving you two weeks' of news from Asia. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Celltrion are among drugmakers working on COVID-19-related research that were targeted by North Korean hackers. Zai Lab poached Genentech's head of oncology product development to be its own cancer development chief. Daiichi Sankyo is creating a unified oncology business unit to help better execute its big ambitions in cancer drug research. And more.

1. Not just AstraZeneca: Hackers targeted 5 other COVID-19 drug developers, vaccine cold chain suppliers

AstraZeneca staffers targeted in suspected hacking scheme amid work on COVID-19 vaccine: report

North Korean hackers allegedly tried to hack AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax as well as South Korean drugmakers Celltrion, Genexine and Shin Poong Pharmaceutical, all of which are working on COVID-19 vaccines or therapeutics. The hackers, disguised as job recruiters or colleagues of the victim, used typical phishing strategies in an attempt to breach computer systems. In addition, IBM cybersecurity experts warned the COVID-19 vaccine cold chain is also being targeted by unidentified hackers.

2. Chinese biotech Zai Lab nabs Roche cancer veteran as new R&D exec, drug hunter

Roche’s global head of oncology product development at Genentech, Alan Sandler, M.D., has left for Zai Lab. There, he'll serve in the newly created position of head of global development of oncology, leading the Chinese biotech’s cancer development programs. Sandler previously played a key role in getting Roche's PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor Tecentriq developed and approved.

3. Daiichi Sankyo takes oncology shift into next phase with new global business unit

Daiichi Sankyo has clearly set out its ambition of becoming an oncology major, transitioning from its previous focus on metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Now, the Japanese pharma has laid out plans to consolidate all its oncology functions across marketing and alliance management into a new business unit starting April 1. Current U.S. chief Ken Keller will take on the additional role of leading that unit.

4. BioNTech, Fosun start COVID-19 vaccine trial to support Chinese approval

BioNTech and Fosun Pharma have started a phase 2 trial of COVID-19 vaccine BNT162b2 in China. Data from this study, combined with results from the partners' phase 3 global trial, will support a filing for approval in the country. The news came shortly before the shot earned its first emergency nod in the U.K., making it the first mRNA vaccine approved for widespread use.

5. Genscript, Legend Biotech founder arrested in China for suspected smuggling

Fangliang Zhang, the founder of Chinese CDMO giant Genscript Biotech and its CAR-T subsidiary Legend Biotech, has been arrested for “suspected offense of smuggling goods prohibited by the import and export regulations” in China. Zhang has resigned from his position as Genscript chairman, having previously shed his CEO and chair titles at Legend.

6. Ahead of possible Japanese approval, Metavant backs away from Poxel-partnered imeglimin

Metavant decided to ditch its lead program—the experimental diabetes therapy imeglimin, which it got from French biotech Poxel—even as the drug nears a Japan approval. Poxel said the decision is not a result of safety or efficacy concerns. If no buyer emerges in 60 days, the drug will be returned to Poxel. Metavant is one of the “vant” subsidiaries to be lumped into a new firm under Japan’s Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma.

7. India's Aurolife under water with the FDA after chronic ceiling leaks imperil generics produced on site

Aurobindo Pharma subsidiary Aurolife got an FDA warning letter. During an inspection between January and February, the FDA found water leaks in the drugmaker’s packaging and encapsulation rooms at its Dayton, New Jersey, plant, raising concerns of potential contamination. Other breaches include releasing APIs despite noticing high levels of an unidentified impurity.

8. Say 'nǐ hǎo' to Novo Nordisk's new Chinese-language chatbot for people with diabetes

Novo Nordisk is partnering with Microsoft to create a Chinese-language AI chatbot, which can answer questions in both voice and text for China’s massive diabetes population of 129 million. It follows Novo’s U.S. chatbot, Sophia, which has been available since 2018. The Chinese version is set to launch early next year.

9. Amgen, Takeda and UCB join forces in new COVID-19 drug repurposing study

In a new clinical trial, Amgen, Takeda and UCB will test whether three of their existing drugs can rein in the uncontrolled inflammatory responses seen in some COVID patients. The three drugs are Amgen’s psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis med Otezla; an intravenous formulation of Takeda’s hereditary angioedema therapy Takhzyro; and UCB’s experimental autoimmune drug zilucoplan.