Behind the milestone lay ten years of relentless effort and hard-work. Innovent is a great demonstration of entrepreneurial spirit, a reflection of patience, and of a willingness to roll up sleeves and make imagination a reality. How did it happen?
Pivoting - shifting the strategy to adapt to the market
It was the investment in WuXi App Tech back in 2005 which ignited Eight Roads' belief that it could incubate a biotech company in China and help China become the manufacturer of choice for high quality biologics.
In 2010, the team at Eight Roads, and our sister fund F-Prime, decided to undertake a thematic study on biologics and the manufacture of monoclonal antibodies. Two team members spent a year compiling a detailed plan, talking to advisors and regulators, and working through compliance issues.
The initial thesis was to set up a low-cost producer of bio-similars as a contract manufacturer for global companies, helping to address a worldwide supply/demand imbalance. The aha! moment came with the realisation that China with its rapidly changing healthcare regulation system, needed to develop medication at affordable prices for its own mass population, which was suffering increasing rates of cancer, cardiovascular and autoimmune disease.
The investment thesis was updated – to build a large-scale manufacturing operation in China focusing on high quality monoclonal antibodies. It would develop a portfolio of products over time, and create a classic portfolio and pipeline approach for the long-term, similar to any world-class pharmaceutical company.
Commitment to high quality
In 2011, Innovent was established and its management team, led by pioneering scientist and business man, Michael Yu, began negotiations to construct a manufacturing facility at the Suzhou Industrial Park in Jiangsu. In October the next year, Eight Roads and F-Prime invested $5m in the company, enabling it to secure 1m square feet of manufacturing space at Suzhou Industrial Park.
By the middle of 2012, Innovent was close to acquiring ten monoclonal antibodies – six proprietary and four biosimilar, targeting oncology, autoimmune and wet macular degeneration. The years went by with challenges and opportunities. Despite market competition, Innovent kept its commitment to high-quality standards in science, talent, and manufacturing.
During 2013, big pharma companies around the world came to realise that not only could China represent a significant market opportunity in its own right but also a manufacturing base for existing products. What they needed was a world-class manufacturing plant performing to global standards. It was Eli Lilly which agreed to provide a$56m up-front payment to Innovent in March 2015, marking one of the largest biotech collaborations between a multinational and a domestic drugmaker in China. The deal could bring up front and milestone payments to Innovent in excess of $1 billion.
It's four years since the agreement was signed and the cooperation with Eli Lilly is bearing fruit. Their first product, Sintilimab, a drug targeting Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients, is soon set to be launched in the China market.