FiercePharmaAsia: GSK’s new China head, repercussions from Japan’s Opdivo price cut, Takeda’s €100M dengue vax plant, Sun Pharma and others

This week, GSK, Opdivo, Takeda and Sun Pharma made the news.

Welcome to this week’s FiercePharmaAsia weekly wrap-up. As we just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, this week’s report is going to include stories that emerged in the past two weeks. GlaxoSmithKline just promoted Thomas Willemsen to become the head of the company’s Chinese chapter, succeeding Herve Gisserot who pulled the company out from the bribery quagmire. Japan’s unorthodox Opdivo price cut raised some eyebrows in the biopharma industry and was criticized as making the country “less predictable” for innovators. Takeda is quickly translating its ambition to expand its presence in the vaccine market into a plan to build a €100 million vaccine plant in Germany. Sun Pharma struck a deal to purchase an 85% stake in Russian drug producer JSC Biosintez, a manifestation of the Indian drugmaker’s determination to grow in emerging markets. Partners Otsuka and Lundbeck are seeking bipolar I disorder application expansion in the U.S. for their injectable antipsychotic Abilify Maintena. Beijing’s air pollution has led the government to shut down manufacturing activities, including those of the biopharma industry, in a provincial capital city nearby.

1. GSK promotes Willemsen as China head, will 'put more energy' into growth prospects

GlaxoSmithKline is clearly eager to turn the page on its bribery drama in China. The weight of leading that effort now rests on the shoulders of the company’s newly appointed China head Thomas Willemsen, formerly deputy of that chapter. It was Herve Gisserot who took over from then China captain Mark Reilly back in 2013 and led the company through the critical investigation and recovery phases, and now, he is moving upward to become head of pharmaceuticals for the Asia-Pacific region. Years after handing over a record-high $490 million fine, GSK is, according to outgoing CEO Andrew Witty, “back into the growth.” But Rome wasn’t built—or rebuilt—in a day. Even though the company just recently received China’s first HPV vaccine approval for its Cervarix and has been trying to revive its image by joining an HIV/AIDS patient program, the pricing pressure is still intense as it saw the company cut a hepatitis B drug price in China by about two thirds. And its worst nightmare just came back to haunt it again, as a private investigator couple involved in the bribery case sued GSK for misleading them and thus led to their imprisonment in China.

2. Price cuts in Japan make the country 'less predictable,' BIO official says

Earlier this month, officials in Japan cut the price of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo in half, more than a year ahead of the drug’s regularly scheduled price review. The industry is concerned about Japan’s erratic move, and it is not shy in voicing its disappointment. A top official for international affairs at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization warned the country that its “ad hoc decisions to modify prices of innovative medicines” is making Japan “less predictable and more risky for innovators.” The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations also criticized the move as “a major departure from the current rules.”

3. Takeda to build $106M vaccine plant for dengue vax push

Takeda is going to build a €100 million plant at its manufacturing site in Singen, Germany, as it prepares for a big push with its dengue vaccine. The announcement came hard on heels with a massive, 20,000-patient phase 3 trial in Asia and Latin America the Japanese drugmaker initiated to test its dengue vaccine candidate. The company definitely realizes that an entire vaccine operation, including a team with significant experience in vaccine development and manufacturing needs to be built for the project.

4. Sun Pharma moves on Russia with deal for control of JSC Biosintez

Like many companies trying to nab a share of the Russian pharma market, India’s Sun Pharma is strengthening its local manufacturing capability in the Eastern European country with a deal worth $60 million to buy an 85.1% stake in Russian drug producer JSC Biosintez. The target of the purchase, a company focusing on Russia’s hospital market, enjoyed revenues of about $52 million last year. The transaction is part of Sun Pharma’s plan to invest in emerging markets.

5. Lundbeck, Otsuka seek Abilify Maintena nod in bipolar disorder

The partnership of Otsuka and Lundbeck is seeking new application from the FDA for its Abilify Maintena in bipolar I disorder. The drug won approval for schizophrenia back in 2013, and sales have been growing off the charts. In 2015, Lundbeck said that sales of the drug rose 220% over the previous year to 669 million Danish kroner ($95.5 million) and that momentum continues as the drug has already produced 534 million kroner ($76 million) in sales in the first half this year. But an expansion of its label could be helpful as Otsuka recently lost its defense of the blockbuster against generics.

6. Antipollution decree in China shutters drug manufacturing in Shijiazhuang until year-end

Beijing’s air pollution disaster, usually worsened during winter seasons, is taking an unexpected toll, as Chinese authorities suspended drug manufacturing in the city of Shijiazhuang, the capital city of Hebei Province which geographically surrounds the country’s capital. The temporary hold, lasting until the end of the year, affects three drug manufacturers based in the city.

More Asian biopharma news from us:

> FDA reinspection of Sun’s troubled Halol plant said to be underway

> ICMR, Sun Pharma team up to revamp Indian clinical research regulations

> Chugai licenses out early-stage cancer candidate to Menarini

> Kymab raises $100M from Chinese investors to take antibodies into the clinic

> Dongying Tiandong dinged by FDA warning letter over heparin testing