Bristol-Myers, Pfizer and Eisai bet big biobucks on the Japanese market

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Pfizer ($PFE) and Eisai are targeting Japan's growing pharma market with a pair of deals in the cardiovascular and oncology spaces, signing back-loaded agreements to push new drugs in the country.

Portola CEO William Lis

Bristol-Myers and Pfizer, makers of the blood thinner Eliquis, inked a deal with Portola Pharmaceuticals ($PTLA) to develop and launch the company's reversal agent in Japan. Portola's andexanet alfa, submitted for FDA approval in December, is an antidote to so-called Factor Xa inhibitors like Eliquis and Xarelto. Bristol-Myers and Pfizer are paying $15 million up front for the Japanese rights to the treatment, promising another $20 million tied to approval and up to $70 million more if Portola's therapy meets its sales goals.

And Eisai, in a separate deal, has partnered with China's Huya Bioscience on an investigational treatment for blood cancer. Eisai is handing over an undisclosed up-front payment and signing on to pay as much as $270 million more in exchange for the rights to HBI-8000 in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore. The drug is an oral treatment that targets enzymes called HDACs, which play a role in regulating the growth of tumor cells. Huya's treatment is in development as a treatment for lymphoma and solid tumors, Eisai said.

For Bristol-Myers and Pfizer, pushing Portola's drug forward is part of a global competition with other makers of next-generation anticoagulants, including Boehringer Ingelheim and partners Bayer and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ). Boehringer's Pradaxa got a leg up on its rivals last year when the German company won FDA approval for Praxbind, an in-house reversal agent for its blood thinner.

As for Eisai, the Japanese drugmaker is working to mend its balance sheet and build out a pipeline. Thanks in part to patent expiries for Alzheimer's drug Aricept and acid reflux treatment AcipHex, Eisai's revenues are on the decline. And the company's latest launches, the weight-loss drug Belviq and seizure medication Fycompa, are facing exclusivity problems of their own. The company scored a much-needed victory last year with the FDA approval of Lenvima, a treatment for thyroid cancer that Eisai believes can bring in more than $1 billion in annual sales at its peak.

- read the Portola statement
- here's the Eisai release

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