CStone’s licencing agreement enables EQRx to develop and commercialise the two late-stage immuno-oncology drugs outside of Greater China


CStone reaches $1.30bn licensing deal with EQRx. (Credit: bertholdbrodersen from Pixabay.)

Chinese pharmaceutical firm CStone has agreed to out-license ex-Greater China rights for two of its late-stage immuno-oncology assets, sugemalimab and CS1003, to US-based biopharmaceutical company EQRx.

Under the terms of the license agreement, CStone is expected to receive an upfront payment of $150m and up to $1.15bn in milestone payments for the anti-PD-L1 drugs, in addition to the individual tiered royalties.

The agreement provides EQRx with exclusive rights to global development and commercialisation of the drugs, except in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

CStone would retain rights to CS1003 in Greater China, where it intends to continue development of the drug either as monotherapy or a part of combination strategy.

CStone chairman and chief executive officer Frank Jiang said: “We are pleased to be partnering with EQRx, an outstanding company led by an exceptional management team with a track record of building and investing in biotech companies as well as leadership roles at commanding heights of the industry.

“They have a unique blend of expertise to execute on this agreement and maximize the global potential of our two lead immuno-oncology assets. This partnership demonstrates the clinical as well as the commercial potential of sugemalimab and CS1003. Both are well suited to serve as backbone molecules for various combination therapies, an approach that is part of EQRx’s vision for these drugs.

“The broad potential to develop combination therapies further strengthens our ability to pursue our combo strategy for CS1003 in China.

“In addition, the capital proceeds that we generate through this transaction will enhance our ability to invest in strategic development initiatives and advance our transition into a fully integrated biopharma company.”

Both Sugemalimab and CS1003 are currently being evaluated for several indications

Sugemalimab is a potential PD-L1 monoclonal antibody, currently being developed in China for high-incidence cancer indications, including frontline non-small cell lung, gastric and esophageal cancers.

The drug has recently secured the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Breakthrough Therapy Designation for relapsed or refractory extranodal natural killer/T-cell lymphoma, and orphan drug designation (ODD) for T-cell lymphoma.

CS1003 is a humanised recombinant IgG4 monoclonal antibody, currently being evaluated for the treatment of advanced solid tumours, including a global registration trial in first-line hepatocellular carcinoma. The drug has secured FDA ODD for the same indication.

The transaction is expected to be completed, subject to expiration or termination of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.

EQRx chairman, founder and chief executive officer Alexis Borisy said: “CStone is recognized globally for excellence in drug development and we look forward to advancing their foundational work to expand access to these two late-stage, innovative immunotherapies.

“We believe the addition of PD-L1 and PD-1 drug candidates to our expanding clinical pipeline provides EQRx and our strategic partners with optionality to deliver high-quality, lower cost treatment regimens across a broad range of cancers.

“Ultimately, adding this unique combination of potentially best-in-class immunotherapeutic agents advances our mission to deliver equal access to innovative medicines while lowering costs for patients, payers and healthcare systems around the world.”

In September this year, US-based Pfizer has signed an agreement with CStone to acquire 9.9% stake in the company for $200m, and entered into a partnership to develop and commercialise late-stage oncology therapies in China.