Mergers & Acquisitions

Chinese cancer-drug maker BeiGene in US$1.4 billion tie-up with biotech giant Celgene

The deal will bankroll trials of BeiGene’s oncology medicines in China, while Celgene gets rights to market its anti-tumour therapy outside Asia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 6:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 4:20pm

BeiGene, a Chinese maker of cancer medicines, has closed a US$1.39 billion deal with the American biotechnology giant Celgene, marking the biggest overseas licensing to date of drugs developed in China.

The deal will bankroll BeiGene’s clinical trials for treating the four most common tumours in China – lung, stomach, liver and eosophageal cancers – said Wang Xiaodong, co-founder and chairman of the company’s scientific advisory board.

Under the agreement, BeiGene will receive an aggregate of US$413 million from Celgene in upfront licensing fees and equity investment, with an additional US$980 million in future regulatory and sales proceeds.

Chinese pharmaceutical companies’ gap with international giants is becoming narrower
Sang Guowei, National Special Project on New Drug Innovation

In exchange, the global biopharmaceutical firm will receive exclusive rights to commercialise BeiGene’s immuno-oncology therapy, BGB-A317, in the United States, Europe, Japan and the rest of the world outside Asia.

BeiGene will assume Celgene’s operations in China including its approved products for treating breast cancer, multiple myeloma and myelodysplastic syndrome – both forms of blood cancer.

“The partnership would combine our geographical strength to ensure a broader reach to patients. For Beigene, we have been bent on developing world-class oncology treatment both in China and to Chinese patients,” said Wang on Thursday at a launch event in Beijing.

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The deal marks the second endorsement the Beijing-headquartered start-up has received from a global partner since Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck, signed a licensing and co-development deal with the company in 2013.

BGB-A317 is a type of humanised antibody that belongs to a new class of drugs called PD-1 inhibitors, which are designed to block a mechanism often used by cancer to hide itself and evade detection from the immune system. The drug, which aims to help the body recognise the threat, is being developed as a monotherapy and in combination with others to treat a broad array of solid tumours and blood cancers.

Currently, the therapy is undergoing trials in China to treat bladder cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma, with more than 650 patients enrolled, according to the company.

“Preliminary data suggest that BGB-A317 is well tolerated and has anti-tumour activity. We have presented data on over 300 patients at international medical conferences,” said John Oyler, co-founder and CEO of BeiGene.

Operating in China since it was founded in 2010, BeiGene is a research-based biotechnology company focused on molecularly targeted and immuno-oncology cancer treatment. The company claims to have around 200 PhD holders among its 700 staff. More than a quarter of them have overseas education experience.

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The partnership between Celgene and BeiGene also marks a paradigm shift in China’s pharmaceutical market, said Sang Guowei, chief architect of the National Special Project on New Drug Innovation. “Chinese pharmaceutical companies have grown from ‘licensing in’ to ‘licensing out’. Their gap with international giants is becoming narrower,” said Sang.

Nevertheless, some distance remains at the funding and internationalisation level, the industry veteran added.

China is the second largest pharmaceutical market in the world, and is forecast to expand from US$108 billion in 2015 to US$167 billion by 2020, representing annual growth of 9.1 per cent, according to a report last year from the US International Trade Administration.