J&J, Biopharma Turn to China for Innovative Collaborations
According to the Financial Times, Johnson & Johnson has been negotiating with two yet-to-be-named Chinese biotech companies. The move comes after J&J's successful collaboration with Chinese-founded Legend Biotech resulted in U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for a CAR-T cancer therapy.
China has become a leader in biotech in the last five years, especially in CAR-T therapies. The country currently conducts the most clinical trials for revolutionary cancer therapy, which engineers patients’ cells to attack and eliminate cancer, with an astounding 492 registered studies.
Now that scientists in China are working on breakthrough therapies rather than bettering existing drugs, companies like Johnson & Johnson are on the prowl to acquire them or form collaborations. China has made it easier for biotechs to collaborate with U.S.-based companies by expanding government and private investment support. The market value of listed biopharma groups from China has surged from $3 billion in 2016 to $240 billion in 2022.
Already, Western companies have successfully garnered a dozen major licensing deals with Chinese companies with a median value of $900 million between July 2020 and July 2021. Eli Lilly, AbbVie, and Amgen are among those who have made agreements to license high-potential therapies from Chinese partners.
Eli Lilly got a head start collaborating with China-based companies when it expanded its strategic alliance with Innovent Biologics in October 2015. The two companies collaborated to support the development and commercialization of antibody treatments for cancer inside and outside China.
However, Lilly has hit a huge snag with the FDA, which could make some biopharma companies question their newfound partnerships. In Feb. 2022, the FDA denied approval to a lung cell cancer therapeutic because clinical trials were conducted solely in China, citing concern that the data was not generalizable to patients in the U.S. The FDA said that Eli Lilly would need to conduct another clinical trial based in the U.S. before the drug could be approved.
The decision by the FDA likely spells trouble for the 25 other clinical applications submitted for review with clinical trials mainly conducted in China and probably has made some biopharma companies change route with their trials stemming from Chinese partnerships. Innovent faces a similar issue with its therapeutic IBI306 for treating cholesterol, which also presented robust results from mainly Chinese participants.
Despite possible hurdles for U.S. approval and commercialization, biopharma companies are well underway in their Eastern collaborations. In 2019, Amgen acquired a 20.5% stake in BeiGene to expand its oncology presence. AbbVie partnered with I-Mab in Sept. 2020 to develop and commercialize lemzoparlimab, an anti-CD47 monoclonal antibody, to treat a variety of cancers. In addition to Innovent, Eli Lilly also entered a multi-year collaborative partnership with China-based Regor Therapeutics Group to discover and develop therapeutics for metabolic disorders. The partnership stands to be worth more than $1.5 billion for Regor.