South Korea's Hanmi eyes branded drugs, fast-paced R&D and China push to grow

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A top executive of Seoul-based Hanmi Pharmaceutical wants to move away from no-name generics to branded drugs and pump-up R&D funds in that direction to build on licensing deals and investment in China that has caught investor attention.

"We will embark on an R&D strategy in which we gradually reduce the weight taken up by generics and come out as a company specializing in branded drugs," company President Lee Gwan-sun told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview.

The effort comes as fast-paced share gains seen last year, as much as 800% at one point, level off with investor focus now on the results of deals such as Olita (olmutinib)--a NSCLC therapy developed and approved locally now licensed China's ZAI Lab and Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim as part of a KRW850 billion ($730 million) agreement.

Boehringer has worldwide rights outside of South Korea, China and Hong Kong and ZAI Lab has exclusive rights in China, including Hong Kong and Macau.

Other high-profile deals by Hanmi include pacts with Eli Lilly ($LLY), Sanofi ($SNY) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) unit Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Lee told Nikkei that the company has a pipeline of 28 new drug candidates that it devotes the bulk of its R&D spending on in the areas of autoimmune diseases, diabetes and cancer, a good fit with unmet therapeutic needs in China where the company has been building a $200 million manufacturing and R&D operation near Yantai since last year.

"Among global pharmaceutical markets, China will probably experience continuously high growth," Lee told Nikkei. "We're set on leveraging our two decades' worth of experience in China to develop the market."

In addition, via investment arm Hanmi Ventures, the hunt is on for fledgling biotechs in China, with KRW10 billion ($8.7 billion) raised by Hanmi Pharma founder and Chairman Lim Sung-ki and a group of investors in June, Nikkei said.

"The Yantai facilities are necessary in order to realize brand-name drugs on a global level,” Lee added. "We aim to use [those sites] as forward bases."

But as the furious dealmaking shows, Lee is keen to see the company get in first in the branded drug segment.

"Speed is key when it comes to developing branded drugs," Lee told Nikkei. "Running our R&D structure as a compact operation provides an advantage. Rather than focusing on scale, we seek to proceed on R&D by partnering at home and abroad with outfits like research institutions and startups possessing superior technology."

- here's the story from NIkkei Asian Review

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