Eli Lilly, China-based Innovent Biologics Expand Cancer Drug Collaboration With $1 Billion PD-1 Pact

Published: Oct 12, 2015

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October 12, 2015
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

INDIANAPOLIS – Eli Lilly and Company and Shanghai-based Innovent Biologics, Inc. have expanded their drug development collaboration to include three anti-PD-1 based bispecific antibodies for cancer treatments over the next decade, the company announced this morning.

The announcement expands on an existing deal between the two companies originally announced in March. The original deal to develop three cancer therapies could have been worth approximately $500 million for Innovent, however the latest deal will give the Chinese company a chance to earn more than $1 billion. According to terms of the deal, Lilly will create the three preclinical anti-PD-1 based bispecific antibodies using an antibody sequence contributed by Innovent.

The field of immuno-oncology is one that many drug companies are exploring and Anti PD-L1 is one of the most promising areas in cancer research. By inhibiting Programmed Death Ligand-1, the anti-PD-L1 drugs are believed to enable the activation of T cells in the treatment of cancer. In a statement, Greg Plowman, vice president of oncology research at Eli Lilly, said both Lilly and Innovent believes “combination therapy in immuno-oncology has the potential to transform the way cancer is treated.”

Several companies are developing anti-PD-L1 inhibitors. Genentech ’s investigational cancer drug atezolizumab successfully shrank successfully shrank tumors in people with locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose disease expressed PD-L1. Atezolizumab is designed to target PD-L1 expressed on tumor cells and tumor-infiltrating immune cells, preventing it from binding to PD-1 and B7.1 on the surface of T cells.

In clinical trials, Merck & Co. ’s Keytruda has been shown effective in treating patients with three types of cancer: melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma. Keytruda, also known as pembrolizumab, is a humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the interaction between the protein PD-1 and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2. By binding to the PD-1 receptor and blocking the interaction with the receptor ligands, Keytruda releases the PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response, including the anti-tumor immune response. On Oct. 1, Keytruda was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors express PD-L1 as determined by an FDA-approved test and who have disease progression on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

The development of the cancer drugs could widely benefit China, which is seeing approximately 3 million new cases of cancer diagnosed annually, along with about 2 million cancer-related deaths, Reuters reported. In a 2012 World Health Organization report, China saw the most new cancer cases and deaths from four types of malignant tumors – liver, esophagus, stomach and lung, according to a 2014 report in the South China Morning Post.

"We are honored that Eli Lilly is so quickly expanding our relationship and that Lilly is trusting Innovent to develop and manufacture their newly created bispecific antibodies for China. We are excited to be at the forefront of immuno-oncology drug development and to benefit from Lilly's deep experience in bispecific antibodies,” Michael Yu, president and chief executive officer of Innovent said in a statement.

In addition to the drug development collaboration, in January Eli Lilly’s Lilly Asia Ventures helped back a $100 million financing round for Innovent. The funding was expected to be used to further Innovent’s eight antibody products, which include one approved IND and three additional filed applications. Three of Innovent’s drug candidates are biosimilars for Big Pharma blockbusters, including IBI303, a TNF like AbbVie 's Humira; IBI301, which hopes to compete with Roche 's Rituxan; and cancer therapy IBI302.

The collaboration announcement did little to help Lilly’s stock this morning, which dropped 10 percent after the company announced it was discontinuing late-stage trials for an anti-cholesterol drug. The is currently trading at $79.45 per share.

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