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Canbridge Life Science's 'portfolio' bid aims to get cancer drugs to patients faster

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By Shannon Ellis
Staff Writer

SHANGHAI – Canbridge Life Sciences Inc., of Beijing, is on its way to bridging the gap that leaves many patients in China waiting anywhere from four years to six years for critical treatments approved in developed markets. With time of the essence, the firm is taking a portfolio approach to its in-licensing strategy, developing both clinical-stage and approved treatments, while mixing new drugs with treatments classified as medical devices.

In its second deal since forming last year, Canbridge will have the Chinese commercialization rights to Caphosol, an adjunct therapy for cancer patients that suffer from extreme dry mouth (oral mucositis) as a consequence of radiation or chemotherapy. According to CEO James Xue, there are no adequate treatments approved in China, even though Caphosol has been available in the U.S., Canada and the European Union.

Canbridge signed the deal with Eusa Pharma Ltd., the international division of Jazz Pharmaceutical plc, of Dublin.

"Drug development takes a lot of money capital and time," Xue said. "If we only focus on products that are in clinical development stage . . . we have to take a lot of risks in terms of development risk."

In the company's inaugural deal, it did take on some of that risk. Canbridge licensed the China rights to co-develop ATI-1123, a liposomal formulation of docetaxel to treat non-small-cell lung cancer, from nanotech specialist Azaya Therapeutics Inc., of San Antonio. ATI-1123 had finished phase I in the U.S. for multiple solid tumor cancers. (See BioWorld Asia, Sept. 25, 2014.)

Developing novel therapeutics is a lengthy and costly process everywhere, but particularly so in China. And with so much unmet need, going after some low-hanging fruit can help a small start-up generate crucial income to temper the risk.

Xue said that Canbridge is hopeful Caphosol will launch in a "relatively more speedy way and with limited risk," citing that those "products already approved by the U.S. FDA and EMEA have a pretty assured registration and approval process in China."

The plan is to launch Caphosol in three years as a medical device. Although still early days, a treatment course would cost around ¥2,250 (US$364) and initially patients would pay out of pocket. Xue said the firm will seek to have the treatment included as adjunct to standard oral care – to be administered each time patients receive chemotherapy and radiation.

Oral mucositis is a startlingly common side effect of cancer treatment. It can lead to painful mouth sores, impede a patient's ability to swallow or take in nutrition orally and, in some cases, cause life-threatening sepsis.

The company estimated some 40 percent of chemotherapy patients, 70 percent of bone marrow transplant patients and 97 percent of head and neck cancer patients receiving radiation therapy develop oral mucositis.

"This product has a vey attractive market potential. The number of cancer patients is at 3.5 million a year in China and most of these patients would experience a certain degree of mucositis," Xue said. "The sheer number of patients is so large, even if we capture a small percentage of the market, it will still mean significant revenues for us."

BUILDING A FULLY INTEGRATED COMPANY

With that deal, Canbridge is also a step closer to realizing its plans to be a fully integrated biotech company and will develop its commercial operation from the ground up. Its model is in the same mold as those of Sciclone Pharmaceutical Inc. and Hong Kong-based Lee's Pharmaceutical Ltd., both of which have been successful in licensing the best of the West for China.

Xue brings regulatory and commercialization experience from his days as general manager at Genzyme China, and he said the current climate, with numerous pharma companies being probed for corrupt activities in their sales ranks, does not deter him. Echoing a sentiment shared by other speciality biotechs, he said, "there are ways to do it right; the precondition is the product you work with is unique enough to differentiate itself."

Citing data from a study conducted last year by McKinsey Consulting, that 50 percent of big pharma revenues in China comes from off-patent therapies left to fight it out against cheaper generics, he said, "even big pharma has not done the proper work to bring original, patented life-saving therapies to China."

Xue said his reception during his U.S. trips has been increasingly positive and he has seen a trend where "CEOs are taking a more active role in directing their China strategy at an earlier stage . . . to drive up the value of their equity in the face of their investors," and, he adds, may be a little disappointed in the ability of the big pharmas to execute partnerships in China.

Canbridge may very well be on a roll. According to Xue, it has received special status from the Beijing municipality that will enable it to tap into government grants and other resources, and it has struck up a partnership with an undisclosed Chinese pharmaceutical with cash to invest. He said the company now has a very robust business development pipeline and expects to be making several announcements in the coming months.