Fierce Pharma Asia—German CEOs visit China; Sanofi, Insilico's $1.2B pact; Sumitomo's job cuts

In a high-profile trip, the CEOs of BioNTech, Bayer and Merck KGaA visited China as part of a business delegation accompanying German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Insilico Medicine became the latest AI drug discovery shop to partner with Sanofi in a deal potentially worth $1.2 billion. Sumitomo Pharma is launching a round of layoffs in Massachusetts. 

1. CEOs of BioNTech, Bayer, Merck KGaA join German Chancellor Scholz in high-profile China visit

Bayer’s Werner Baumann, BioNTech’s Ugur Sahin and Merck KGaA’s Belén Garijo joined German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s 12-person business delegation to China. During the visit, Scholz announced that China will allow foreigners in the country to receive BioNTech’s COVID vaccine. Calling the agreement “a first step,” Scholtz said he hopes the shot will be made available to a wider population soon.

2. Amid 'biotech winter,' Insilico turns up the heat with Sanofi deal worth $1.2B in biobucks

Insilico Medicine has signed a multiyear research pact with Sanofi potentially worth $1.2 billion. The French pharma paid up to $21.5 million upfront and gets to choose up to six targets on which it'll apply Insilico’s AI drug discovery platform. For its part, Insilico has 31 internal programs across the fields of fibrosis, oncology, immunology, the central nervous system and aging-related disease. 

3. Biopharma layoffs roll on as Novartis, Sumitomo and Valneva plot around 800 cuts

Just as Sumitomo Pharma gears up to absorb Myovant, the Japanese pharma and its subsidiary Sunovian Pharmaceuticals are laying off 360 employees at its Marlborough, Massachusetts, location, effective Jan. 13, 2023. The job cuts are “designed to reflect both the external landscape and Sunovion’s evolving commercial portfolio,” a company spokesperson told The Boston Globe.

4. Troubled Lupin suspends manufacturing of drugs bound for US

As part of an FDA warning letter, Lupin has suspended production of drugs for the U.S. market from its active pharmaceutical ingredient plant in Tarapur, India. The Indian company previously said the warning letter wouldn't impact supplies or revenues from the facility.

5. Zenas zips up $118M to launch phase 3 for rare autoimmune disease candidate

Sino-American biotech Zenas BioPharma raised $118 million in a series B to advance a pipeline of immune disease programs. The financing was led by Enavate Sciences and two firms with a Chinese background—Quan Capital and Vivo Capital—while others also participated. The company’s lead candidate, obexelimab, is moving into a phase 3 trial.

6. After nearly 20 years, Cyclacel kicks phase 3 leukemia drug back to Daiichi

Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals has decided to return sapacitabine to Daiichi Sankyo after a phase 3 trial in acute myeloid leukemia showed disappointing results. The biotech first licensed the nucleoside analog back in 2003 but hasn’t been able to win any approvals for the therapy. The drug is also in a phase 1 trial in BRCA-mutant breast cancer, but that opportunity clearly wasn’t enough for Cyclacel.

7. EQRx ditches US non-small cell lung cancer plan for CStone’s PD-L1

Another China-made PD-1/L1 inhibitor is hitting a road bump in the U.S. After discussing with the FDA, EQRx has decided not to pursue a U.S. approval of CStone’s PD-L1 inhibitor sugemalimab in metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. The U.S. regulator suggested it would only accept final overall survival data from a phase 3 trial pitting sugemalimab against an approved PD-1/L1 agent for a filing.

8. After Bora's biologics debut, CEO outlines quest to join ranks of top CDMOs

Taiwanese CDMO Bora Pharmaceuticals hopes to become one of the world’s top 10 CDMO over the next five years by focusing on earlier and smaller-scale projects rather than commercial-stage manufacturing, CEO Bobby Sheng said in an interview. The company has a newly acquired biologics plant in Taiwan and could eventually expand into North America either through construction of a new plant or an acquisition, he said.

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