FiercePharmaAsia—Daiichi’s new CEO and $6.9B AZ deal; Keytruda China market debate

Daiichi Sankyo's plan to refocus on oncology paid off as AstraZeneca agreed to shell out $1.35 billion upfront for its lead antibody drug conjugate. But a new CEO, Sunao Manabe, will spearhead the Japanese pharma's next phase of growth. The Keytruda-Alimta-chemo combo nabbed a Chinese nod in newly diagnosed lung cancer patients, but blockbuster sales might be hard to reach, according to one analyst. Chi-Med's AstraZeneca-partnered MET inhibitor savolitinib helped Tagrisso-resistant EGFR lung cancer patients live longer in a phase 1b. And more.

1. AstraZeneca puts $6.9B on the table for a Daiichi Sankyo cancer drugBig day for Daiichi: Pharma taps new CEO just as it unveils a big tie-up with AstraZeneca

Daiichi Sankyo is licensing out its lead antibody drug conjugate, DS-8201, to AstraZeneca in a deal potentially worth nearly $7 billion. The drug, made up of Roche’s Herceptin and a topoisomerase I inhibitor payload, is in tests for HER2-expressing cancers and has turned up positive phase 1 data. The Japanese pharma also unveiled its CEO transition plan: Current president and chief operating officer Sunao Manabe will succeed George Nakayama to help the company shift from cardiovascular and metabolism toward oncology.

2. Keytruda nabs key lung cancer nod in China. But are blockbuster sales really attainable?

Keytruda jumped ahead of Opdivo in China with a nod in newly diagnosed non-small cell lung cancer. However, analyst Tony Ren figures it might be difficult for the Merck & Co. drug to reach blockbuster sales there. The Chinese lung cancer market for PD-1/L1s is not as big as some have projected, and without head-to-head studies, Keytruda will have a hard time fighting off several cheaper domestic drugs, he argued in a note to investors.

3. AACR: Chi-Med, AstraZeneca's savolitinib helps some Tagrisso-resistant EGFR lung cancer patients

Chi-Med unveiled promising phase 1b results for MET inhibitor savolitinib, which it’s developing with help from AstraZeneca. In one cohort of patients treated with the Tagrisso-savolitinib combo after acquiring MET-driven resistance with a third-generation TKI, such as Tagrisso, 28% patients responded, with a median response lasting 9.7 months.

4. AACR: Astellas pads Xospata's AML lead with chemo-beating survival data | Daiichi's Xospata rival pushed back by FDA as it combs through new data

Looking to snap up share with newly approved Xospata, Astellas unveiled phase 3 data showing that the drug could significantly prolong the lives of relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia patients with an FLT3 mutation versus salvage chemo. And a direct rival from Daiichi Sankyo, quizartinib, will likely launch three months later than expected; the FDA pushed back its decision date to August 25 to allow more time for its assessment.

5. Novartis’ Cosentyx beats J&J, Lilly to land first-in-class Chinese psoriasis nod

Novartis’ psoriasis blockbuster Cosentyx beat out Eli Lilly’s Taltz and Johnson & Johnson’s Tremfya to land a Chinese approval, months after Chinese drug regulators put all three therapies among 48 “clinically urgently needed drugs.” In an ongoing phase 3 that comprises 441 Chinese patients, Cosentyx delivered clear or almost clear skin in 80.9% of patients in the first 12 weeks.