Boehringer bets up to $730M on a new lung cancer drug

Boehringer Ingelheim has agreed to hand over as much as $730 million to South Korean drugmaker Hanmi Pharmaceutical in exchange for the rights to a midstage treatment for lung cancer, betting the drug can stand out in a crowded field.

Under the deal, Boehringer is paying $50 million up front to partner up on Hanmi's HM61713, promising up to $680 million more if the drug clears certain clinical and commercial milestones.

The oral treatment is a kinase inhibitor that targets EGFR, a receptor that plays a role in cell growth and, when mutated, can lead to cancer. EGFR is a well-worn path in oncology, a target shared by Roche's ($RHHBY) Tarceva and Boehringer's own Gilotrif, among many others.

But Hanmi's treatment has the potential to lead a third generation of EGFR inhibitors, according to Boehringer, and it has shown promise in early-stage studies in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). HM61713 is now in the middle of a Phase II study on patients with T790M-mutated NSCLC who have developed a resistance to previous EGFR drugs, and Boehringer and Hanmi are plotting a Phase III program to begin next year.

For Boehringer, the deal is part of a broader effort to expand its oncology pipeline. Beyond Gilotrif and Vargatef, approved in Europe to treat lung cancer, the German drugmaker is at work on 10 anticancer therapies, including the Phase III volasertib and BI 695502.

Boehringer's Jörg Barth

"This exclusive license agreement with Hanmi Pharmaceutical is a significant step towards our vision of providing a wide range of lung cancer treatment options as we better understand the underlying drivers of this devastating disease," Boehringer Senior Vice President Jörg Barth said in a statement.

- read the statement