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Pharmaceuticals

Indonesia's Kalbe signs deal for COVID and cancer drug candidate

Licensing pact with South Korea's Genexine said to be worth $1.1bn

A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 ward at a hospital in Jakarta.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Indonesia's largest pharmaceuticals manufacturer, Kalbe Farma, has struck a deal with South Korea's Genexine to develop and commercialize a drug candidate for both COVID-19 and cancer treatments.

Kalbe Farma said its licensing agreement with the biotechnology group was worth $1.1 billion, including costs for clinical trials, registration and commercialization as well as royalty payments that will be made in stages to Genexine.

Kalbe Genexine Biologics, a joint venture formed by the two companies in 2016, will make an upfront payment of $27 million to Genexine, which will transfer technology and conduct joint clinical trials.

The KGBio venture will have the right to sell the drug -- called GX-I7 -- across Southeast Asia, Oceania, India, the Middle East and Africa. Genexine is slated to receive a 10% royalty from sales.

The licensing of GX-I7 "is a very strategic and important deal for KGBio in building our portfolio of ... innovative therapeutic products," said Sie Djohan, president director of KGBio. The agreement is expected to help the company "build collaborations with many global partners, which will bring KGBio to the next level to become a leading biotechnology company in Southeast Asia."

A subsidiary of Kalbe Farma: The Indonesia drugmaker says its immune-system boosting drug may prevent COVID-19 patients' condition from worsening. (Photo courtesy of Kalbe Farma)

GX-I7 is Genexine's brand name for efineptakin alfa, an immunotherapy drug the South Korean company originally was developing as a treatment candidate for cancer patients through boosting the natural immune system to fight cancer cells.

The companies said GX-I7 increased patients' lymphocyte count -- a type of white blood cell in the immune system. It therefore might help prevent deterioration by COVID-19 patients showing mild or no symptoms, especially among vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the partners said.

KGBio said it is conducting a Phase 2 clinical trial for the use of GX-I7 in COVID-19 treatments in Indonesia, after obtaining approval from the country's Food and Drug Monitoring Agency for the testing. GX-I7 is separately undergoing early stage clinical trials for treatments of different types of cancer.

"The licensing agreement with KGBio proves the very high value of GX-I7," Genexine Chairman Sung Young-chul said in the joint news statement. "Genexine will continue to collaborate actively with global partners to get GX-I7 recognized as an innovative immuno-oncology drug."

The deal comes after global private equity firm General Atlantic said last month it would invest $55 million into KGBio, supporting the company's ambition to dominate Southeast Asia's underdeveloped biological pharmaceuticals market.

Kalbe Farma also is distributing antiviral drug remdesivir, manufactured by Indian generic-drug maker Hetero, for COVID-19 treatments in Indonesia.

The Indonesian company is separately involved in a Phase 2 trial for a coronavirus vaccine also developed by Genexine.

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