The Korean biotech industry joined competition to develop a chimeric antigen receptor-T cell (CAR-T) therapeutic drug called “the cancer drug of doctors’ dream.”
CAR-T is a technology that allows T cells which are a kind of common immune cells in blood to selectively attack cancer cells after pinpointing them. CAR-T treats patients by introducing special CARs after extracting T-cells from patients, amplifying T cells containing genes and injecting them into patients’ bodies.
According to the pharmaceutical industry on November 19, CAR-T drugs which have been developed in the world to date are only two –- “Kymriah,” an anti-leukemia drug of Novartis of Switzerland and "Yeskarta" a lymphoma remedy of Gilead of the US. In addition, pharmaceutical companies such as Juno Therapeutics and Atara Biotherapeutics of the US, Cellectis of France, and Takeda Pharmaceutical of Japan are also actively developing CAR-T drugs.
In Korea, ViroMed announced a plan to develop CAR-T drug on November 16. The company has CAR gene optimization technology for the development of CAR-T drugs, vector production technology for maximizing gene delivery efficiency and ex vivo technology for gene transfer and cell proliferation. ViroMed is planning to develop three CAR-T drugs after transferring “VM801,” CAR-T technology of its own development, to US Bluebird Bio for about 56.8 billion won in December 2015.
In addition, AbClon is developing a remedy for blood cancer by introducing safer technology than existing CAR-T drugs from a research team led by professor Jung Jun-ho of Seoul National University in February. The team's technology is known to differentiate itself from existing drugs by significantly reducing the cytokine release syndrome (CRS), which is a negative side effect that can spark off hypotension or fever in patients, even killing patients when using CAR-T drugs.
To top it off, Green Cross Cell, a subsidiary of Green Cross, is in the process of screening and verifying CAR-T drug candidates aimed at treating solid cancer. The company is planning to carry out research with the aim of entering a pre-clinical trial next year. It is said that LG Chem has been considering the introduction of technology related to CAR-T drugs since bringing in Son Ji-woong as head of the Life Science Business Division in February and making the development of diabetes drugs and immunological anti-cancer drugs its main R&D task.