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Korean Pharmaceutical Firms Begin to Develop Cancer Immunotherapy Drugs
Competing with Foreign Counterparts
Korean Pharmaceutical Firms Begin to Develop Cancer Immunotherapy Drugs
  • By Choi Mun-hee
  • March 27, 2018, 07:30
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Korean pharmaceutical companies are expected to develop Cancer immunotherapy drugs within a few years because some Korean companies began to accumulate and develop related technologies.
Korean pharmaceutical companies are expected to develop Cancer immunotherapy drugs within a few years because some Korean companies began to accumulate and develop related technologies.

 

Korean pharmaceutical companies are expected to develop Cancer immunotherapy drugs within a few years because some Korean companies began to accumulate and develop related technologies.

More intense competition is expected in the domestic market of cancer immunotherapy drugs called “third-generation anticancer drugs.” BMS’s “Opdivo” and MSD's “Keytruda” are sharing the Korean immuno-cancer drug market as the two top players. The two drugs are followed by Roche's "Tecentriq." Korean pharmaceutical companies such as Dong-A ST, Boryung Pharmaceutical and Yuhan Corp. among others are spurring development to make an attempt to catch up with the global pharmaceutical companies.

According to drug market research institute IQVIA on March 26, last year, sales of BMS ''Optivo” in Korea ran to 12.47 billion won (US$11.2 million), ranking first in the Korean cancer immunotherapy drug market. MSD's "Keytruda" took second place with 12.22 billion won (US$10.9 billion). Roche's "Tecentriq" came in third with 674 million (US$60,600) in sales.

BMS and MSD differ in their strategies for expanding their cancer immunotherapy drugs. Opdivo now has the most indications for its use by recording eight indications in seven carcinomas among cancer immunotherapy drugs available in Korea. The drug was approved for an indication in gastric adenocarcinoma on March 23 for the first time as cancer immunotherapy drugs in Korea and approved for treatment of colorectal cancer and liver cancer in the United States. At present, indications in colorectal cancer and liver cancer in Korea are not yet approved. On the other hand, Keyruda is trying to expand its indications as the first treatment drug. If the drug is expanded into a primary treatment drug, it can be used in more patients.

As cancer immunotherapy drugs are in the limelight, domestic pharmaceutical companies are also in a hurry to develop them. Among Korean pharmaceutical companies, Boryung Pharmaceutical is leading the way. Boryung Vigencell, a subsidiary of Boryung Pharmaceutical, received approval of the Phase II clinical trial of a cancer immunotherapy drug from the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety at the end of last year. The clinical test targets patients with NK.T lymphoma which is blood cancer due to Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). Boryung Vigencell aims to receive a license on the product and launch it after the completion of the Phase II clinical trial in 2021.

ImmuneOncia Therapeutics, a subsidiary of Yuhan Corp, received approval of the Phase I clinical trial of IMC-001, a cancer immunotherapy drug, from the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on March 1. The approval is the first approval of a clinical trial of a new PD-1 and PD-L1 immune-suppressing agent in Korea.

At the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in the US in January, Dong-A ST signed a joint research contract on an immunosuppressive drug with UK-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Dong-A ST jointly conducts research on substances that lead AstraZeneca's leads and candidates for three immune cancer targets under study. All intellectual property and patents from this joint research will be shared between the two companies.

"Cancer immunotherapy drugs are not easy to develop as only five global pharmaceutical companies succeeded in developing them," an industry official said. “However, I expect that Korean pharmaceutical companies will develop them within a few years because some Korean pharmaceutical companies began to accumulate and develop related technologies."