The partnership between global pharma giant Eli Lilly and Chinese biotech Innovent Biologics, first initiated in March 2015, continues to bear dividends for both parties. The recent announcement that Lillly has struck a deal for the exclusive license of Innovent’s TYVYT® drug outside of China stands to catapult the Chinese firm onto the global market
Back in 2015, the agreement included the development and potential commercialization of at least three cancer treatments: two from Innovent and one from Lilly. At the time this deal was announced, it was one of the first and most significant deals made between a Big Pharma player and a Chinese biotech. In our exclusive late-2018 interview with Innovent CEO Dr Michael Yu, he expressed what the deal meant then for the young company: “this deal was a very critical milestone. We benefited immensely from this deal, not just in terms of the financing for our R&D but also through the validation of the quality of our innovation from Big Pharma.” For him, a Big Pharma deal was one of the two fundamental markers of success for a biotech company.
Five years later, sintilimab or TYVYT®, a PD-1 inhibitor, has since been approved by Chinese regulator NMPA for relapsed or refractory classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma after at least two lines of systemic chemotherapy in 2019. While TYVYT® missed the boat on being the first PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitor to be approved in the China, it bears the distinction of being the only one to be included on the new National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL) in November 2019, shortly after its approval. In May 2020, TYVYT® was approved for an additional indication as part of a combination therapy with Lilly’s ALIMTA® and platinum for non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
TYVYT® currently has a price slightly under RMB 100,000 (USD 14,600). It commenced sales in China in March 2019, and within the ten-month period ending 31 December 2019, generated RMB 1.02 billion (USD 149 million) in revenue, becoming one of the best-selling drugs ever launched in China in terms of first-year sales.
Early this month, Lilly and Innovent announced another landmark deal: the expansion of their strategic alliance for TYVYT®, under which Lilly obtains an exclusive license for the drug outside of China. In exchange, Innovent gains an upfront payment of USD 200 million with up to USD 825 million more receivable upon the attainment of various development and commercial milestones, in addition to tiered double-digit royalties on net sales – an impressive first step in launching Innovent’s portfolio onto the global market, as Dr Yu highlighted in the official press release.