CK Hutchison’s pharma unit to partner with Eli Lilly on first home-grown colorectal cancer drug in China

Shanghai-based drugmaker poised to become first domestic player to design, manufacture a medicine that could ‘significantly extend the lifespan’ of patients

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 10:20pm

A pharmaceutical unit of Li Ka-shing’s conglomerate CK Hutchison is partnered with Eli Lilly, the US drugmaker that helped mass-produce penicillin, to launch the first ever home-grown colorectal cancer drug in China, where rates of the disease are exploding.

On the back of positive results from a final stage of clinical trials of the new colorectal cancer treatment, Hutchison China MediTech said it is proceeding with regulatory submission for the new drug, called Fresco, to China’s Food and Drug Administration in the middle of the year.

If successful, the Shanghai-based drugmaker is poised to become the first domestic player to design and manufacture a medicine that could “significantly extend the lifespan” of patients suffering from the disease in China, officials said.

“It will be the first drug of its type in China. Today they have nothing,”said Christian Hogg, chief executive with Nasdaq-listed Chi-Med in Hong Kong.

So far, the most commonly used drug for colorectal cancer worldwide is Stivarga, developed by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer. But it costs an exorbitant US$14,000(HK$108,701) for a 28-day cycle of treatment every month.

In 2015, more than four million people in China were diagnosed with cancer and nearly three million died from it, according to the American Cancer Journal of Clinicians.

In more prosperous regions of southeast China, home to metropolises like Shanghai, colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer in terms of incidence rates due to a westernised dietary habits and prevalence of obesity.

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Chi-Med said the drug candidate, known chemically as Fruquintinib, is an inhibitor of a protein ion or molecule and will block the development of new blood vessels essential for tumours to grow and invade. The latest testing in patients also did not identify any unexpected side effects or safety issues, it added.

The company enrolled 416 patients with advanced colorectal cancer in China, and saw those who took 5mg of oral doses of the medicine daily enjoy a longer life expectancy, which otherwise could last for only five to six months.

“We succeed in very sick patients, and will go after those suffering from a milder disease,”said Hogg.

The treatment of colon cancer is a field dogged by failure. Previously, at least two trials of therapies for the advanced stage of the disease in China had ended in vain.

If successful, Chi-Med, which has already invested over US$400 million into the development of cancer drugs, will share future revenues with Eli Lilly. Lilly will take the lead in marketing and distribution of the medicine in China.

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Meanwhile, the Shanghai-based company, which has a team of 330 scientists, is running a string of clinical studies for treatments for lung cancer and gastric cancer, Hogg said.

Colon cancer is the second most common cancer type in China, with about 38,000 new cases per year, according to CA Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2016.

While agreeing the price of Bayer’s Stivarga may be prohibitive to most Chinese patients, Hogg said the company intended to keep a lid on that to make it “not so far away from what people can afford”.

“Philosophically, we want to benefit as many people as we can.”