JAPAN — Takeda, a pharmaceutical company from Japan, has partnered with Hong Kong-based Hutchmed to gain commercial rights to the colorectal cancer drug fruquintinib outside of China for US$400 million, as well as US$730 million in potential milestone payments.

The drug is an oral vascular endothelial growth factor receptors (VEGFR) 1/2/3 tyrosine kinase inhibitor that is currently progressing toward approval in the U.S. and Europe, with submissions planned for this year.

Fruquintinib was first approved in China in 2018 as the first domestically produced drug for a major cancer type, where it is marketed by Eli Lilly under the name Elunate.

Takeda will also collaborate in the development of fruquintinib, which has the potential to be used in subtypes of refractory metastatic colorectal cancer, regardless of biomarker status.

In a statement, Teresa Bitetti, President of Global Oncology Business at Takeda, expressed confidence that fruquintinib has the potential to change the treatment landscape for patients with refractory metastatic CRC who are in need of additional treatment options.

Weiguo Su, the CEO and CMO of Hutchmed, has expressed that Takeda’s partnership will help “unlock” the potential of fruquintinib, which was developed in 2007.

This partnership is just one of several deals between big pharma and Chinese biotechs that are focused on developing cancer drugs.

China’s significant burden of cancer, along with reforms in the innovation ecosystem supported by the National Medical Products Administration and the opening of the capital market in Hong Kong, has created a favorable environment for start-ups and resulted in a wave of new Chinese biotechs in recent years.

However, these companies often rely on programs developed in North America or Europe, but they are aspiring to innovate and are particularly active in oncology.

With more than five people dying from cancer every minute in China and a unique epidemiological and patient profile, both local and multinational biopharma companies are prioritizing China as a key market for R&D and commercial activities.

The acceleration of innovation within oncology in China is critical to managing the country’s oncology burden and ensuring improved treatment options that are accessible and equitable.

Recent trends, including a wave of new biotechs focused on oncology and improved quality in oncology research, are fueling China’s progress in oncology innovation.

Novartis joined forces with BeiGene in 2019 to develop and commercialize tislelizumab in Europe, North America, and Japan.

Additionally, Innovent, based in Jiangsu, has a long-standing relationship with Lilly in the development of sintilimab.

In 2020, Lilly expanded the partnership to commercialize the drug outside of China with a US$200 million upfront deal, plus US$825 million in milestones.

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

Takeda views fruquintinib as a significant opportunity and the drug could potentially be the first to receive approval for third-line colorectal cancer treatment in over seven years.

Stivarga from Bayer was introduced in 2012, followed by Lonsurf from Taiho and Servier in 2015. Four months ago, Hutchmed shared data from its phase 3 trial of fruquintinib, which demonstrated a 34% reduction in death.

Marek Kania, M.D., Hutchmed’s international chief medical officer, described the study results as “practice-changing.”

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