Lilly and China's Innovent Biologics tie up on cancer drug candidates with $56M upfront

Eli Lilly & Co. ($LLY) and China's Innovent Biologics agreed to co-develop at least three experimental cancer drugs--including one from Lilly's research labs and two from Innovent--in a deal that will see the Indianapolis-based company pay $56 million upfront.

Innovent, a four-year-old startup near Shanghai, represents a new breed of Chinese biotech with a sharp focus on cancer therapies.

Lilly could pay more than $400 million in milestones if one of the Innovent drugs hits certain development and commercial goals.

The companies will jointly market the drugs in China if they win regulatory approval. Lilly will be responsible for marketing them outside of China.

Eli Lilly's Darren Carroll

"From our view, this is really the most comprehensive development, manufacturing, and commercialization agreement we've seen in China," Darren Carroll, Lilly's senior vice president of corporate business development, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Innovent focuses on monoclonal antibodies and has recently raised $100 million with venture-capital funding, including a special Lilly Asia vehicle.

Innovent is looking at a biosimilar version of Rituxan, a blockbuster treatment for certain blood cancers and rheumatoid arthritis that is co-marketed by Biogen Idec ($BIIB) and Roche ($RHHBY).

The Shanghai company has received Chinese regulatory approval to begin testing the biosimilar in humans.

The second Innovent drug is an experimental cancer immunotherapy with an undisclosed mechanism of action, which hasn't yet entered human studies.

- here's the story from the WSJ