The biotechnology industry in China is coming of age as a major licencing deal has been signed between RemeGen Co Ltd and Seagen Inc, a Seattle-based company. The deal marks the biggest of all between a western company and a Chinese biotech firm, as an agreement to co-furnish cancer treatment measures using RemeGen antibody drug conjugate is put in place. The arrangement paves the way for $2.4 billion in payments and an additional amount of $200 million in advance and also royalties, if approved.
This deal is also one of the fifth out-licencing deals, which is more than $1 billion, that has been bagged by a Chinese biotech firm. What is ever more interesting is that almost all the deals were signed in 2021, highlighting the country’s slow but enhancing role in bringing out cancer drugs that can be used across the world. As per one of the senior partners in McKinsey, Hong Kong, without a shred of doubt, China is already a vital player and an integral part of the global world of biopharmaceuticals.
The Chinese government has made it clear that treating cancer is a top priority in the industry. As per a study, China, which happens to be the world’s most populous country, contributed 30% of global cancer deaths and also added 24% of newly diagnosed cases. Notably, the supportive policies for the sector that were initiated years ago have now started bearing fruit, thereby getting western firms to knock on the doors of China’s biotech firms.
This agreement will help Seagen, based in the United States, compete with treatments in the breast cancer space developed by Roche Holding, AstraZeneca, and Daiichi Sankyo.The antibody has also shown tangible promise in effectively facing bladder as well as stomach tumours.
Apart from RemeGen, other notable deals that have been signed include Novartis’s agreement, which is worth around $2.2 billion for a drug from BieGene Limited. They are both coming up with a drug that will resemble Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo. They help the immune system get rid of different types of cancer by attacking them and have fetched billions of dollars in sales. Additionally, in a deal worth $1.9 billion, AbbVie has also collaborated with I-Mab to co-manufacture a monoclonal antibody for a wide range of cancers.
In a very short span of time, Chinese biotech firms have gained. All thanks to the Chinese scientists trained abroad, often referred to as “sea turtles,” who have now fallen prey to consistently attractive domestic opportunities as the Chinese government looks to develop the sector as a whole. In recent years, 2017 and 2018 to be precise, the country has aligned well with international norms as well as regulatory standards and has rapidly sped up the new drug review system. Besides, the industry has also seen an increase in fund raising after the stock exchange in Hong Kong revised its rules in 2018 to allow the listings of new biotech firms that haven’t even started earning revenues yet.
However, there appears to be a long way to go, as only three Chinese-developed drugs have received FDA approval in the United States. Investors have already made their concerns clear on violations, and it remains to be seen how many Chinese firms will cross the finish line considering the elaborate process of drug discovery, which also involves massive expenditures. As of now, however, it seems like there are enough funds to get the industry moving.
As per Simone Song, who happens to be the founding partner of ORI Capital, there is a possibility of a turning point due to the regulatory approval regime as well as capital supply. It is well to be noted that overall, around nineteen Chinese biotech firms made their stock exchange debuts in 2020, raising a combined amount of $5.2 billion, which was an increase from 13 firms raising $2 billion in the year previous to that.
In a startling figure released by McKinsey, the overall figure of Chinese biotech companies listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange as well as the Shanghai Star board and Nasdaq was somewhere around $180 billion in May last year, which was way more than a mere $1 billion in 2016. As per industry experts, many out-licensing arrangements when it comes to Chinese firms are set to grow. Be it I-Mab, Junshi Biosciences, Innovent Biologics, or Legend Biotech, all are in line for licencing deals with firms from the west.
As per I-Mab, it is looking for strategic partners in order to develop and market its products. On the other hand, Legend is open to partners and there hasn’t been any statement from Innovent or Junshi yet. Significantly, in 2017, Legend was one of the first biotech firms from China that won an out-licensing deal with one of the major pharmaceutical firms from the west.
Although they are small in number, Chinese biotechnology firms, which are well established, have bigger ambitions. Angus Grant, Chief Business Executive of BeiGe, says that they are trying hard to brand themselves as an international firm and that they just need to have a good lab presence in China. On the other hand, Hutchmed, the first firm from China to have in-house cancer drug development unconditionally approved, has no plans to collaborate in the US or even at home since it has seen a growth.