Amgen takes $2.7bn stake in BeiGene to up presence in China

Amgen will look to commercialize several of its biologics and advance 20 oncology candidates in China as it acquires roughly 20% of local drugmaker BeiGene.

During Amgen’s third quarter 2019 financial call this week, CEO Bob Bradway noted his firm’s excitement of having recently launched its first product in China – cardiovascular disease monoclonal antibody Repatha (evolocumab).

“We expect this to become an important market for us through time,” he told investors.

Image: iStock/Bubbers13

Days later, and the biopharma firm has struck a deal to bring more of its portfolio to the region, acquiring a 20.5% Stake in BeiGene for approximately $2.7 billion (€2.4 billion) in cash.

The deal will see BeiGene commercialize Amgen’s Xgeva (denosumab), Kyprolis (carfilzomib) and Blincyto (blinatumomab) in China in a profit and loss share model, with the products reverting back to Amgen over the next five to seven years.

BeiGene, meanwhile, will help develop a further 20 oncology drugs in Amgen’s pipeline to bring to the China market, contributing $1.25 billion to the development costs. BeiGene will gain commercial rights in China for seven years after launch for those that receive approval, including Amgen’s AMG 510, a small molecule inhibitor of KRAS G12C being investigated as a treatment for a variety of solid tumors.

“This isn’t just a China deal. BeiGene is helping Amgen develop these 20 drugs globally,” Kansas City-based biotech analyst Brad Loncar tweeted yesterday. “It speaks to how BeiGene is establishing itself as global leader in oncology.”

BeiGene, meanwhile, has been growing its biotech presence in China since its founding in Beijing in 2010. The firm, which went public on the Nasdaq with a $182 million IPO in 2016, bolstered its pipeline in 2017 through the acquisition of Celgene’s commercial operations and portfolio assets in China.

And earlier this year, the firm boosted its discovery technology by inking a deal to access Ambrx’ Expanded Genetic Code platforms to discover novel biologic drug candidates.

From a manufacturing standpoint, BeiGene built a facility in Suzhou in 2016, and broke ground on a commercial-scale biologics manufacturing facility in Guangzhou the following year. Both sites rely on single-use flexible technologies supplied by GE Healthcare, with the Guangzhou site based on the vendor’s KUBio off-the-shelf platform.

Bye to neuroscience

In other news this week, Amgen has pulled out of its neuroscience R&D programs.

“Upon careful evaluation of our pipeline and the challenges inherent in developing drugs for major neurologic diseases, we’ve made the decision to end our neuroscience research and early development programs with the exception of programs centered on neuro inflammation that will be pursued by our inflammation TA [triamcinolone acetonide],” Bradway told investors.

“This was a very difficult decision and we know it will be a disappointment for our staff and the scientific community. Over the years, many people at Amgen have devoted time and energy toward developing medicines for patients with neurologic conditions and I’d like to thank and acknowledge them for their efforts.”

He did not rule out future programs in the space, however, saying that with around half the genes in the body expressed in the brain the space can still be lucrative. “We’ll be exploring potentially different models for doing that with venture capital and perhaps academic institutions as well.”

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