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Lilly-Innovent Veteran to Head Everest Med; Commits to China Despite COVID-19
Everest Medicines, a Shanghai in-licensing company, has appointed Kerry Blanchard, MD, PhD, as CEO. Dr. Blanchard is a long-term China biopharma executive with ten years of experience leading China drug development programs at Lilly (NYSE: LLY) and Innovent (HK: 1801). His hiring illustrates that Everest remains committed to its China-centric business plan, despite the recent COVID-19 disruption. In a statement, Dr. Blanchard said, “China’s importance to global pharmaceutical development continues to rise and I will work with the Board to explore strategic opportunities outside of our traditional focus of licensing regional rights to late-stage programs.”
Founded in 2017, Everest has acquired a portfolio of eight late-stage drug candidates that are potential first-in-class or best-in-class assets. For the past four months, Dr. Blanchard has been Operating Officer at CBC Group (formerly C-Bridge Capital), which invested all of Everest's $50 million in initial funding.
While at Lilly, Dr. Blanchard served for almost eight years as Senior Vice President leading a 400-person China Drug Development and External Innovation team. He then spent a year and a half as Chief Scientific Officer at Innovent, Lilly's major China partner. In 2015, Innovent and Lilly signed a $1 billion pact to partner on nine drug candidates, including Innovent's PD-1, Tyvyt (sintilimab). Tyvyt was approved in late 2018 and launched in China in 2019. At Innovent, Dr. Blanchard also led the partnership with Incyte that was charged with developing three small molecule oncology assets in Greater China.
Because Everest in-licenses late-stage drugs, it was able to start four registrational trials in 2019, even though it had been in business for only two years at the time. It expects to begin at least two more registrational trials in 2020 and submit its first NDA this year.
In 2019, Everest announced an $835 million agreement for greater China rights to an Immunomedics ADC candidate for solid tumor cancers. The deal included a $65 million upfront payment and a second payment of $60 million if the candidate, sacituzumab govitecan, is approved by the US FDA to treat triple-negative breast cancer. The remaining $710 million includes development and sales milestones. The deal was a major commitment for a company that was originally founded with $50 million in capital.
“Dr. Blanchard brings a depth of scientific and clinical experience from academia, global big pharma and Chinese biotech that will be a perfect complement to the business expertise of Everest Medicines’ founding team,” said Wei Fu, Chairman of the Board of Everest Medicines. “As we look forward to the company’s growth trajectory under Dr. Blanchard, we thank Sean Cao for his contributions to Everest Medicines at a critical growth period and we will benefit from his continued contribution as a senior advisor.”
“Dr. Blanchard is a seasoned leader with extensive experience managing discovery, clinical and regulatory operations and bringing cross functional teams together to achieve outstanding results. He understands all aspects of our corporate strategy and what we must do in order to continue to be successful moving forward,” said Sean Cao.
“I am honored to join a company that has built such a solid foundation for innovative drug development and look forward to leading the company through this next phase of growth as we initiate multiple registrational trials in different therapeutic areas, expand our workforce, enhance our capabilities and prepare for commercial readiness,” said Dr. Blanchard.
Dr. Blanchard will be based in Everest's Shanghai office and will join the company’s Board of Directors.
Since its 2017 founding, Everest has in-licensed the following candidates (plus the Immunomedics ADC):
• A $224 million partnership with Arena (NSDQ: ARNA) to develop two clinical-stage Arena small molecule candidates in China and southeast Asia. One is ralinepag, aimed at pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), and the other is etrasimod, which is being tested in autoimmune diseases, including ulcerative colitis;
• A $23.5 million deal to acquire greater China rights to eravacycline, an antibiotic for serious multi-drug resistant infections, from Boston's Tetraphase Pharma (NSDQ: TTPH);
• Global rights to a novel Novartis (NYSE: NVS) liver cancer treatment, a FGFR4 (fibroblast growth factor receptor 4) kinase inhibitor, currently in Phase I/II clinical trials across the US, Europe and Asia in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma and other solid tumors positive for FGFR4 and KLB expression.
• China and Southeast Asia rights to a VenatoRx treatment for drug-resistant infections -- a cefepime/VNRX-5133 combination that is ready to start global Phase III trials.