Chinese Pharma Companies Continue to Shake Hands With Western Partners

Two chess pieces on a board, one with chinese flag pattern and one with American flag pattern

In May of this year, Brii Biosciences launched with $260 million in financing to support the company’s goal of accelerating the development and delivery of breakthrough drugs to China. This month the company used those funds to go shopping for drugs to fill its pipeline.

Zhi Hong, an 11-year GlaxoSmithKline veteran, helms the Shanghai-based company that also has offices in Durham, N.C. Since its start, the company launched with the rights to four infectious disease assets from Vir Biotechnology. The company has also struck partnerships with WuXi AppTec and Wuxi Biologics for priority access to WuXi’s research and development capabilities.

When the company launched, Hong said, “China needs faster, affordable access to new therapies, and has the public health infrastructure and advanced digital and data technologies to enable that at scale.”

Hong took the company’s wallet to the Boston Bio Conference in order to accelerate the prospect of bringing new medications to China. Reuters reported that Hong has been discussing potential partnerships with up to a dozen different drugmakers. The goal, Reuters said, if for Brii to help those companies conduct clinical trials in China and provide assistance in securing regulatory approval of needed therapies in that country.

Hong’s Brii is one of many China-based companies that are heavily investing in U.S. biotech and pharmaceutical companies to support the development of programs that could come back to China for approval. Reuters noted that this year, Asian companies have invested about $4.2 billion in U.S. companies, 43 percent of total venture funding in the biotech sector, according to data from PitchBook. In the first quarter of this year, BioSpace reported that there has been more than $1.4 billion spent by Chinese investors into U.S. biotech firms, citing data from the South China Morning Post.

Throughout this year BioSpace has documented the growing relationship between China and Western pharma companies. The Chinese biopharma market is booming as more and more companies eye breaking into that rich market.

Licensing drugs for China is proving to be a costly venture. In its report, Reuters said the interest in western-made pharmaceuticals has increased upfront payments for licensing agreements “for U.S. drugmakers to over $30 million currently from $1 million or $5 million three years ago.”

Despite a tariff war between China and the U.S., Reuters noted that there is not likely to be any slacking off of partnerships between companies from the U.S. and China any time soon. Especially when growth projections show the massive gains China will make in its market value. IQVIA data shows China’s pharmaceutical market is expected to grow to between $145 billion and $175 billion by 2022.

Some key projects that have been struck between western and Chinese companies include a team-up between China’s BeiGene and SpringWorks Therapeutics to develop therapeutics that will target advanced solid tumors that contain RAS mutations, as well as other MAPK aberrations.

In August, WuXi’s contract development and manufacturing organization subsidiary Shanghai SynTheAll Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., secured a physical toehold in the United States. The company’s San Diego facility is expected to provide process research and development as well as API manufacturing services for early phase clinical studies.

WuXi has been a busy company lately forging a Sino-western alliance in pharma and biotech. In April WuXi formed a partnership with Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics to develop treatments for cancer with the formation of a new Chinese company called JW Biotechnology Co., Ltd. The new Chinese company’s mission will be to build a cell therapy company in China through using Juno’s chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and T cell receptor (TCR) technologies in combination with WuXi AppTec's R&D and manufacturing platform.

In July Roivant Sciences launched Sinovant Sciences in China with an aim at developing innovative treatments for some of China’s most pressing medical concerns.

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