BEIJING – EOC Pharmaceutical Group, of Shanghai, completed a series C financing round, bagging $71 million to advance its lead programs EOC-103 and EOC-315 for breast and gastric cancers.

The round was led by Hangzhou Tigermed Consulting Co. Ltd. and its affiliated funds, TF Capital and Yingke PE. Hanne Capital and Everest Venture Capital also participated in the round. In 2017, EOC raised $32 million in a series B round. All funding participants are China-based.

Xiaoming Zou, CEO, EOC

“Most of the proceeds will be used to advance our existing clinical programs. A major part will go to late-stage development of our assets, while a small portion will be used to advance the early stage programs into clinical studies,” EOC CEO Xiaoming Zou told BioWorld.

A specialty pharma

EOC remains committed to fighting breast and gastric cancers by building a portfolio specializing in those two indications. The company said both are sufficiently commercially viable to provide a strategic focus. Gastric and breast cancers are the number two and number five killers in China, with incidences projected to reach 570,800 and 402,400, respectively, by 2030.

“Our management has a good understanding of the commercial market, which sets us apart from other competitors,” Zou explained. “We look at assets from the China commercial market’s perspective to build the right portfolio.”

A near NDA-stage asset is EOC-103 (entinostat), an oral inhibitor of class I histone deacetylases (HDAC) now in phase III trials in China for breast cancer. It is the lead program for the biotech.

EOC licensed it from Syndax Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Waltham, Mass., gaining commercial rights to China and certain Asian countries. The drug candidate received a breakthrough therapy designation from the FDA in 2013.

“Our phase III study in China will be finishing enrollment by the first quarter next year, and we hope to have the data by the third or fourth quarter next year,” said Zou, adding that an NDA submission could come around the first quarter of 2021, followed by a commercial launch in 2022.

Its U.S. partner, Syndax, is running a global phase III trial of the HDAC inhibitor as a second-line treatment in metastatic breast cancer patients who are refractory to hormone therapy. Data are expected to come early next year.

Zou said EOC-103 has a superior safety profile and long-term benefits for breast cancer patients in combination with hormone therapy.

“Syndax is running a global study with overall survival [OS] as the endpoint, and we are running a progression-free survival [PFS] study,” Zou explained. “We hope to cite Syndax’s results next year if they’re positive. So EOC-103 would be one of the few molecules that potentially have both OS and PFS benefits to breast cancer patients.”

EOC already is thinking ahead for its first commercial launch. Zou said the biotech will start commercial preparation by the end of next year.

Another late-stage program is EOC-315, a highly selective, potent VEGFR inhibitor undergoing phase II trials for gastric cancer in China, and soon to enter a phase II/III trial. EOC obtained the global rights to the drug candidate from Act Biotech Inc., of San Francisco.

“EOC-315 has demonstrated a very nice safety profile in phase IIa studies in the U.S. and Europe when used in front-line gastric cancer patients in combination with chemotherapy. We are now developing it directly in the front-line gastric cancer setting, one for which no targeted therapy has been approved,” said Zou, adding that using a target agent in the front-line combination with chemotherapy could create more benefits.

“We believe in the potential of using vascular inhibition together with immuno-oncology products like Keytruda in gastric cancer. We are looking into the combination of EOC-315 with a PD-1/PD-L1 antibody, beyond the current combination with chemotherapy,” he added.

Two more assets in EOC’s pipeline are EOC-202 (IMP-321), a soluble LAG-3 Ig fusion protein and an APC activator that boosts T-cell responses for metastatic breast cancer, as well as EOC-317, a highly potent FGFR inhibitor for FGFR mutations or gene proliferation in gastric cancer and urothelial carcinoma.

EOC is finishing a China bridging study for EOC-202, and a dose-escalation phase I study for EOC-317.

Business strategy

Throughout EOC’s business strategy, synergy and efficiency are the two keywords that Zou mentioned the most.

The biotech began by acquiring assets from overseas partners in order to make a quick start in the industry. It looks for assets with proof of concept and high differentiation that have been developed to treat breast and gastric cancers.

“We would like to have complementary assets to continue to build our synergy and to serve more patients, whether it is for first-line or second-line treatment. That will be our thinking going forward to growing our portfolio,” Zou said.

With their commercial expertise, EOC’s executives also understand that China is an entirely different game compared to the U.S. and Europe. The Chinese government is actively pushing drug prices down to enhance drug accessibility for its 1.4 billion people, going in the opposite direction of the high-price model in the West.

While many wonder if the low-pricing strategy is helpful to biotech innovation, Zou said he believes making drugs affordable for a broad market is a positive thing and advises his peers to think about how to adapt to that market and emphasize affordable innovation.

It all comes back to “innovation efficiency,” a golden rule Zou said he firmly believes in.

“In China, you need to do innovation in an efficient, cost-effective way because you have the pricing pressure to provide affordable medicine,” he said.

From a financial perspective, right from the beginning, biotechs will have to think about investing wisely to maintain the right cost structure to be able to deliver at a lower price point for the cancer patients while making a reasonable return for the investors.

Another thing is to choose an asset wisely.

“Even if the molecule structure is different, if you cannot provide a meaningful clinical differentiation, you won’t be able to command a premium price and you will be pushed into price reductions,” Zou concluded. “You will also face challenges to provide a return that justifies further investment.”

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