A class of drugs is coming up that can attack cancer cells in the body without damaging the healthy ones. It holds the promise for replacing chemotherapy and its troublesome side effects, and reshaping the future of cancer care.
The complex biological medicines, known as antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), have been in the making for many years, and are now generating renewed enthusiasm because of the success of one ADC in late-stage testing, a breast cancer treatment called DS-8201.
The zeal over ADCs is such that British drug-maker AstraZeneca Plc has agreed to pay 6.9 billion dollars to jointly develop DS-8201 with Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo Co. The investment was widely seen to be a validation of the potential of DS-8201—the ADC class of drugs as a whole—as an alternative to chemotherapy, the most widely used treatment, for some types of cancer.
DS-8201, which will be filed for US approval this year, is so well-regarded that some analysts already prophesied that it will surpass the 7 billion dollars in annual sales for Roche Holding AG’s breast cancer drug Herceptin.
Caroline Stewart, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence who estimates sales of the drug to eventually approach 12 billion dollars globally, said, “DS-8201 may become one of the largest cancer biologic drugs. While the field has advanced and there are several companies focusing on ADCs, Daiichi in particular seems to have developed a unique expertise.”
According to analysts, DS-8201 could triple the number of patients who get vigorous targeted treatment for breast cancer, the most common tumor among women that kills more than half a million every year. Its ability to target cancer cells without affecting normal cells is an important advantage over the chemotherapy’s take-no-prisoners approach.
The full potential of DS-8201 is still years away, as it will take time for data to validate the efficacy of the drug. Still, the potential of ADCs is already influencing Big Pharma greatly. Roche, whose drug Herceptin loses exclusivity of patent in the US this year, has included ADCs in its portfolio. About 56 pharmaceutical companies are developing ADC candidates, including ImmunoGen Inc. and Seattle Genetics Inc., and they could be targets for acquisitions or licensing deals from global pharmaceuticals eager for a piece of the ADC pie.
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