Eli Lilly gambling up to $86M on China cancer drug development deal

Jacques Tapiero, Lilly's president of emerging markets

Hutchison China MediTech, backed by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing and best known as Chi-Med, says its R&D group has found another major league pharma partner for one of its programs based on its work on traditional Chinese medicines. Eli Lilly ($LLY) has signed on to collaborate on fruquintinib, committing to a package of $86.5 million in fees and milestones to partner on a tumor treatment which was put up on the deal table earlier this year.

Currently in a mid-stage study and cleared for Phase II/III by China's FDA, fruquintinib is a VEGFR 1, 2 and 3 inhibitor with potential to treat a variety of tumor types. Chi-Med will pay for the bulk of the development work and stands to gain a royalty stream on any approvals.

Chi-Med CEO Christian Hogg told Bloomberg last spring that the company believes this program has some strong potential for colorectal, lung, breast and gastric cancers, which overlaps some of Lilly's work in the oncology field. Guillaume van Renterghem, an analyst at UBS AG, put peak potential sales at $650 million, according to the business news service.

Chinese botanicals have drawn some intense interest from major players who have been carefully focused on big emerging markets like China. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) recently set up a dedicated research unit devoted to traditional meds in China. Just last week, HCM landed a $6 million milestone on its partnership with J&J ($JNJ) on inflammation/immunology. And there's another $90 million in potential payments to go.

 "In Lilly's emerging markets business, we are focused on providing patients with innovative medicines from our own pipeline and through collaborations with respected science-based companies such as HMP," said Jacques Tapiero, Lilly's president of emerging markets. "Together, we are committed to help meet the medical needs of oncology patients in China."

- here's the press release