Takeda pledges up to $1.13B for rights to Hutchmed's cancer drug fruquintinib outside of China

Since the start of the decade, big pharma companies from Europe and the United States have descended on China to get in on the country’s biotech boom.

The latest big pharma player to get a piece of the action however is closer to home. Takeda of Japan has partnered with Hong Kong-based Hutchmed, gaining the commercial rights to colorectal cancer drug fruquintinib outside of China for $400 million up front, plus $730 million in potential milestone payments.

The oral vascular endothelial growth factor receptors (VEGFR) 1/2/3 tyrosine kinase inhibitor is progressing toward approval in the U.S. and Europe, with submissions planned this year. In 2018, fruquintinib became the first domestically produced drug for a major cancer type to be approved in China, where it is known as Elunate and is marketed by Eli Lilly, through a deal signed in 2013.

Takeda also will help develop fruquintinib, which can be applied to subtypes of refractory metastatic colorectal cancer, regardless of biomarker status, the companies said.

“Fruquintinib has the potential to change the treatment landscape for patients with refractory metastatic CRC who are in need of additional treatment options,” Teresa Bitetti, president of global oncology business at Takeda, said in a release.

Hutchmed CEO and CMO Weiguo Su added that Takeda will help “unlock” the potential of fruquintinib, which was hatched in 2007.

The partnership joins a score of other deals between big pharma and Chinese biotechs developing cancer drugs. Two years ago, Novartis teamed up with BeiGene to develop tislelizumab and commercialize it in Europe, North America and Japan.

Meanwhile Jiangsu-based Innovent has a long association with Lilly in the development of sintilimab. In 2020, Lilly expanded the partnership with a $200 million up front deal—plus $825 million in milestones—to commercialize it outside of China.

Five months ago, Innovent also made a $326 million development deal with Sanofi to combine sintilimab with two oncology drugs from the French drugmaker.

As for Takeda, the Japanese pharma giant sees a big opportunity with fruquintinib, which could become the first drug approved for third-line colorectal cancer in more than seven years. Bayer’s Stivarga reached the market in 2012, followed by Taiho and Servier’s Lonsurf, which came along three years later.

Four months ago, Hutchmed revealed data from its phase 3 trial of fruquintinib which showed a 34% reduction in death. Hutchmed’s international chief medical officer Marek Kania, M.D., called the study results “practice-changing.”