FiercePharmaAsia—Taiho, Otsuka, Chugai KRAS deals; Biocon biologics spinoff; Mark Alles' new title

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Taiho, Otsuka, Chugai, Biocon and Mark Alles made our news this week. (Google)

Merck & Co. teamed up with Taiho and Otsuka subsidiary Astex in a cancer collaboration potentially worth $2.5 billion. Verastem Oncology licensed a Chugai drug for combo therapy in KRAS-mutant tumors. Biocon's selling of a stake in its biologics unit to a private equity fund triggered concerns that the deal was undervalued. Shortly after the Bristol-Myers Squibb acquisition closed, former Celgene chief Mark Alles has assumed an independent director role on Chinese biotech Antengene's board. And more.

1. KRAS craze sees Merck put $2.5B biobucks down for Taiho, Astex licensing deal | Verastem pens KRAS-focused drug licensing deal with Chugai

Japanese drugmakers have attracted two licensing deals for their KRAS cancer projects. In one of them, Merck & Co. is shelling out $50 million upfront and promised up to $2.5 billion in milestones to collaborate with Taiho and Otsuka subsidiary Astex. Verastem Oncology has licensed Roche unit Chugai’s RAF/MEK inhibitor CH5126766 to pair with its own FAK inhibitor defactinib in KRAS-mutant solid tumors.

2. Biocon bags PE funding to prep biologics spinoff—but did it give away too much?

Biocon has traded a 2.44% stake in its biologics business for roughly $75 million from private equity True North. The deal, valuing the biosimilar-focused unit at $3 billion, gives it a benchmark equity valuation before an IPO, Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said. The unit is aiming for $1 billion in revenue for fiscal 2022, so some investors argue the purchase price, at three times sales, is too low.

3. Mark Alles, after leading Celgene’s investment in Antengene, joins Chinese biotech's board (release)

After the Bristol-Myers Squibb merger, former Celgene chief executive Mark Alles has taken on a board seat at Chinese biotech Antengene, a company run by his former colleague Jay Mei. Alles’ Celgene had previously granted Antengene Asian rights to its TORC1/2 inhibitor CC-223 and obtained an equity stake in the startup in 2017, following up by chipping in a $120 million series B in early 2019.

4. With cancer kickoff, Amgen bets on BeiGene's fast-growing Chinese sales force

Amgen has officially launched its China collaboration with BeiGene, betting on the latter’s commercial know-how to help market its oncology drugs Xgeva, Kyprolis and Blincyto. Since taking over Celgene’s China operations in 2017, BeiGene has more than quadrupled its sales force to about 900. It will probably get even bigger with the Chinese approval of PD-1 drug tislelizumab, to be made by Boehringer Ingelheim at its biologics facility in Shanghai.

5. BeiGene bags option on Leap cancer drug, requests PD-1 combination trial

BeiGene has licensed rights to Leap Therapeutics’ anti-DKK1 antibody DKN-01 in Asia-Pacific countries other than Japan. Leap will test the drug in combination with BeiGene’s newly approved PD-1 tislelizumab so that the Chinese biotech can decide whether to commit more cash beyond the $3 million upfront fee.

6. China's Adagene bags $69M to advance lead immunotherapies

China’s Adagene has landed $69 million in series D, backed by $50 million from General Atlantic and participation from others like F-Prime Capital, WuXi Corporate Venture and Sequoia. The funding will push the first wave of its pipeline programs through the clinic, including anti-CTLA-4 drug ADG116 and CD137-targeting ADG106.

7. Immunic adds Daiichi GI med to pipeline with phase 1 trial on deck

Immunic Therapeutics has pulled the trigger on an option to license Daiichi Sankyo’s investigational inflammatory bowel disease drug IMU-856, aiming to start human trials in the first half of 2020. The pair didn’t disclose financial terms of the deal nor the oral drug’s exact target.

8. CDMO WuXi STA opens manufacturing facility to produce oligonucleotides 

WuXi STA has opened a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing unit at its Changzhou, China, site to make oligonucleotide active pharmaceutical ingredients. The CDMO said the plant can make a variety of oligonucleotides including DNA, RNA, morpholino oligonucleotide and peptide conjugates at a speed of up to 1 mol per synthesis run.

9. South Korean startup raises $4.2M to trial VR therapy for brain damage, vision loss

Seoul-based Nunaps has raised 5 billion won ($4.2 million) to develop and test its software-based treatments for neurological disorders—after launching the first digital therapeutics clinical trial in the country with its Nunap Vision, which is designed to treat visual field defects caused by brain damage.