Celgene CEO Says Early-Stage Partnerships Begin to Show Promise

Celgene Corp. Chief Executive Officer Robert J. Hugin said his partnerships with companies in the early stages of drug development are bearing fruit, yielding more than half of eight new compounds the company aims to put into human testing over the next 18 months.

“We think the strategy is working very well,” Hugin said in an interview with Bloomberg News Friday in Shanghai. “There’s great productivity coming out of the partnerships.”

As part of its plan to reduce its dependence on cancer drug Revlimid, Celgene struck 10 licensing deals in 2014, more than any other biotech company, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. The strategy provides biotech startups with capital and an experienced ally to help bring early-stage products to market.

Celgene’s alliance with Acceleron Pharma Inc. has yielded two different drugs that are currently in late-stage trials, while a collaboration with Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc. has produced one product that will soon begin a final-stage study that will be used too seek regulatory approval, Hugin said.

Last month, Celgene agreed to pay a subsidiary of AstraZeneca Plc $450 million upfront to collaborate in developing and selling a treatment for hematologic malignancies, cancer that begins in blood-forming tissue. The deal will help Celgene boost its program in hematology and oncology, Hugin said.

“Immuno-oncology is important to us,” Hugin said. “We felt that in hematology there was not a lot of evidence yet.”

Last month, the company reported a 20 percent increase in first-quarter revenue to $2.08 billion, falling short of analysts’ estimates as sales of drugs for lung cancer and psoriasis missed projections.

Abraxane Goals

Cancer treatment Abraxane had sales of $223 million, compared with the $246 million average estimate, and psoriasis drug Otezla had revenue of $60 million, short of the $70.6 million analysts had predicted on average.

Abraxane is likely to meet the lower end of its goals for this year because as the company expands outside of the U.S., it takes time to get reimbursements in other countries, Hugin said.

Celgene is working with the China Food and Drug Administration to get permission to market Abraxane to treat pancreatic cancer, which has been approved in many other countries but not yet in China.

The company hopes to have discussions with Chinese regulators in the second half of this year on Vidaza, a treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes -- disorders of the blood cells that can lead to leukemia -- and have it approved in the next two years, Hugin said.

— With assistance by Hui Li

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