South Korean biotech venture companies are focusing their research and development (R&D) on metabolism-based anti-cancer drugs, which are called fourth-generation cancer treatments. Since the development of metabolism-based cancer treatments is a virgin territory even for multinational pharmaceutical companies, expectations are growing that domestic biotech ventures will be able to dominate the anti-cancer medicine market worth tens of trillions of won if they come up with breakthroughs in this field.
NewGLAB Co., which is listed on the secondary KOSDAQ market, announced on June 5 that it has licensed metabolism-based anti-cancer treatment technology from KoDiscovery LLC, a U.S.-based R&D firm specializing in development of new anti-cancer drug candidates.
KoDiscovery develops new anti-cancer treatments based on “3-Bromopyruvic acid (3BP)” agent. NewGLAB has incorporated its subsidiary NewG Lab Pharma Inc. in Maryland, the United States, to push forward its biotech business. The company has received the technologies for four diseases -- breast cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer and melanoma.
Co. submitted its clinical trial plans for potential anti-cancer candidate agent “NYH817100” to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety in May. If the company receives approval for the clinical test in around July and August, it is planning to conduct the first clinical trials on 40 to 50 cancer patients at The Severance Hospital of Yonsei University over the next year.
In addition, MetiMedi Pharmaceuticals Co. has recently completed the first clinical trials for “OMT-110,” a potential anti-cancer candidate agent for metastatic colorectal cancer, at Gil Hospital in Incheon. The company has also finished raising funds to conduct the second clinical trial. It shows the fastest pace among biotech venture companies that are developing new metabolism-based anti-cancer drugs.
ImmunoMet Therapeutics Inc., a spinoff from Hanall Biopharma Co. specializing brain tumor treatments, is also carrying out the first clinical trials for metabolism-based anti-cancer candidate agent “IM-156” in the United States.
South Korean biotech companies are focusing on fourth-generation anti-cancer drugs because metabolism-based anti-cancer treatments have less side effects than first- to third-generation anti-cancer drugs and are expected to be more efficacious in treating cancer.
Anti-cancer drugs are divided into the first-generation chemical agents which have cytotoxicity, the second-generation agents that target certain genes and the third-generation immunotherapy agents which improve the immune system of patients.
A metabolism-based agent blocks the energy metabolism of cancers by inhibiting the substance that plays a key role in creating the process of cancer cell energy growth. It does not affect normal cells so it is expected to overcome the side effects of existing anti-cancer drugs and increase the rate of full recovery. Currently, the anti-cancer treatment market is monopolized by immunotherapy medicines. The global immunotherapy treatment market grew by more than 22 times in five years from US$883 million (998.60 billion won) in 2013 to US$19.33 billion (21.89 trillion won) in 2018, according to drug market and data analysis firm IQVIA.
Sales of Keytruda,. a blockbuster immunotherapy drug, surpassed 70 billion won (US$59.48 million) last year in four years after it was released in the South Korean market. However, immunotherapy drugs cannot be used to patients who already suffer from a great damage in the immune system, just like existing anti-cancer drugs, and have limits and side effects, including hair loss. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said that patients who use immunotherapy treatments “Opdivo” and “Keytruda” are more likely to develop tuberculosis, and specified the side effect on the document attached to the medicines last month.
Furthermore, the fact that multinational pharmaceutical companies and U.S. bio venture firms have not developed a perfect form of candidates in the metabolism agent sector yet is one of the main factors that drive domestic companies towards development of metabolism-based cancer treatments.