AstraZeneca forms Chinese joint venture for biologic drug

AstraZeneca's MedImmune unit announced Monday a joint venture (JV) with WuXi AppTec to develop and market the experimental biologic drug MEDI5117 in China for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. "This strategic partnership will enable us to establish a leadership presence in developing novel biologics in China, complementing AstraZeneca's investment in this important emerging market," remarked Bahija Jallal, executive vice president of R&D at MedImmune.

Under the deal, the two companies will have equal ownership in the JV, with AstraZeneca having an option to acquire full rights to commercialise MEDI5117. WuXi will provide local regulatory, manufacturing, pre-clinical and clinical trial support, earning revenue based on services provided to the JV. MedImmune will receive various milestone payments as the programme progresses.

MEDI5117, a fully human monoclonal antibody that depletes IL-6, is currently in early-stage development in the US and Europe. MedImmune noted that in China, a local investigational new drug application will be filed, after which Phase I trials will begin.

According to Jallal, the partnership could see MEDI5117 launched four to six years earlier in China compared to the usual route of getting an import licence after approval in other markets. She noted that MEDI5117 was selected for the JV as there is still a high unmet medical need for rheumatoid arthritis treatments in China and AstraZeneca believes its product has potential advantages over others. "If it is successful, we hope this could be a good pathway for further molecules," Jallal added.

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