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Korean Biopharmaceutical Firms Betting on Blockbuster Cancer Immunotherapies
Lured by High Growth Potential
Korean Biopharmaceutical Firms Betting on Blockbuster Cancer Immunotherapies
  • By Choi Moon-hee
  • May 10, 2019, 13:50
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Domestic biopharmaceutical companies are betting on blockbuster cancer immunotherapies.

Domestic biopharmaceutical companies are putting more efforts into research and development (R&D) to advance into the rapidly growing immune cancer drug market.

Boryung Pharmaceutical started on April 23 the operation of a new production complex in the Junggok industrial complex in South Chungcheon Province. The company has set up a large-scale facility for production of an immune cell therapy under development by its subsidiary, Vigencell. Vigencell entered Phase II clinical trial of the blood cancer treatment VT-EBV-201 last year and plans to complete the trial and launch the product under conditional approval in 2021. In addition, the company plans to conduct Phase 1 clinical trial of blood cancer immunotherapy BR2002 in the United States and Korea this year.

Industry leader Yuhan Corp. is working on development of cancer immunotherapy through Immuneoncia, which is a bio-venture it jointly founded with U.S. Sorrento Therapeutics in 2016. In March, Yuhan Corp. completed Phase I clinical trial of cancer immunotherapy IMC-001, which targets protein PD-L1 on the surface of cancer cells, and plans to verify its therapeutic effect on rare cancers from the middle of this year.

Meanwhile, DongA-ST licensed out its cancer immunotherapy MerTK inhibitor to AbbVie of the United States for US$48 billion in 2016 and signed a joint research agreement with AstraZeneca for R&D of cancer immunotherapy in the beginning of last year. DongA-ST has acquired global monopoly rights for two dual antibody drugs under development by domestic bio-venture company ABL Bio.

Immune Cell LC, which was launched by GC Green Cross subsidiary GC Green Cross Cell in 2007 in Korea, is also gaining attention in the global anti-cancer treatment market. In September 2018, Immune Cell LC was selected as a rare drug for liver cancer, brain cancer, and pancreatic cancerby the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). GC Green Cross Cell is also spurring the development of CART-T, an immune cell treatment that takes out immune cells and puts them back into the body after genetic transformation.

Domestic company Sillajen, which is conducting a global phase III clinical trial on new anti-cancer virus drug PexaVec, is considered to be closer to the new drug launch than any other domestic company. Sillajen presented study results on the removal of tumor cells by intravenous administration at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2019 held in Atlanta on April 1.

Domestic pharmaceutical companies are focusing on development of cancer immunotherapies because of the market’s high growth potential. According to market researcher Grandview Research, the global cancer immunotherapy market is expected to grow at compound annual growth rate of 9.6 percent from US$581 billion (67 trillion won) in 2018 to US$202.6 billion (147 trillion won) in 2026. Kitruda, which is known as a blockbuster cancer immunotherapy, reported sales of 70.3 billion won in Korea last year and is expected to make global sales of 14 trillion won in 2024.