April 24, 2024
India's Immuno-Oncology

India’s Growing Immuno-Oncology

India has emerged as a dominant player in the global biosimilar and generic drugs market. The country is now eyeing a greater share in the lucrative immuno-oncology drugs segment as well. Immuno-oncology leverages the body’s own immune system to fight cancer and has shown promising results in treating various cancers. Several Indian pharmaceutical companies are developing immuno-oncology drugs through indigenous R&D as well as tying up with global biotech firms.

Rise of Indigenous R&D Capabilities

A number of Indian drug makers have substantially ramped up their R&D spending on developing novel immuno-oncology drugs in recent years. Major players like Dr. Reddy’s, Biocon, and Intas Pharmaceuticals have set up separate research divisions focusing exclusively on oncology. Dr. Reddy’s recombinant human interferon alpha-2b was the first bio-similar drug developed indigenously in India way back in 2004. Encouraged by this success, the firm is now developing a pipeline of eight immuno-oncology molecules. Other Indian firms are conducting clinical trials of compounds targeting PD-1, CTLA-4, IDO1 and colonies stimulating factors.

Some notable R&D successes include Biocon’s itolizumab, which was approved by DCGI for treating plaque psoriasis in 2013. The drug, marketed under the brand name ALZUMAb, blocks a subset of T-cells called CD6 and has shown encouraging data in ongoing trials for treating psoriasis and graft-vs-host disease. Intas Pharma’s iniparib, an inhibitor of PARP1/PARP2 enzymes, completed Phase III clinical trials for treating triple-negative breast cancer. Acquired by ChemGenex Pharmaceuticals in 2011, the drug is now approved in several countries under the brand name anticancer.

Partnerships with Global Leaders

While indigenous capabilities are strengthening, most Indian companies still rely on partnerships with prominent global drug makers for access to novel drug targets and platforms. One of the most extensive partnerships is between Dr. Reddy’s and global pharma giant Merck & Co. Under this alliance initiated in 2014, Dr. Reddy’s gains early access to Merck’s immuno-oncology pipeline including anti-PD-1 drug KEYTRUDA and proceeds to undertake clinical trials and regulatory submissions for the Indian market.

Biocon has partnered with Quintiles, Genentech and global equity firm True North to test monoclonal antibodies, including a biosimilar of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blockbuster drug OPDIVO. Sun Pharma has a partnership with Innovent Biologics, a Chinese biotech, for developing novel antibodies targeting PD-1 and PD-L1 pathways. Glenmark Pharma is collaborating with Anthropic to use artificial intelligence techniques for expediting its immuno-oncology drug discovery program. Such partnerships allow Indian firms to commercialize promising immuno-oncology therapies much earlier than attempting to develop them independently.

Growing Patient Acceptance

Indian cancer patients have limited access to costly imported immunotherapies like Opdivo, Keytruda and Tecentriq. However, with more indigenous and affordable options joining the fray, the acceptance and demand for immuno-oncology drugs is rising significantly among patients and doctors in India. The major Indian cancer centers have started dedicated immuno-oncology clinics to enroll patients in clinical trials as well as post-marketing studies of drugs approved by DCGI. Hospitals are also investing in advanced diagnostics and cold storage facilities required to administer these sensitive biological therapies.

While surgeries and chemotherapies still dominate the India’s Immuno-Oncology, immuno-oncology drugs comprising checkpoint inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies are expected to account for 10-15% market share by 2025 according toEvaluate Pharma. The launch of more affordable biosimilars through partnerships will boost this further. Overall, the Indian immuno-oncology therapeutics market is projected to cross $500 million by 2026 from under $100 million currently according to GlobalData, presenting huge opportunities for domestic firms.

Funding Immuno-oncology Startups

Recognizing the immense scope, the venture funding environment for immuno-oncology startups in India has become quite robust in recent years. Many Indian biotech incubation centers and new life science funds have come up exclusively focused on oncology. Some notable startups in this space include ImmunoAct, which is developing TLR agonists to activate dendritic cells for cancer vaccines. Aquiline Oncology is engineering oncolytic viruses for targeted tumor destruction. Advenchen Laboratories is working on novel candidates for solid tumors leveraging epigenetics. They have collectively raised tens of millions in venture dollars from investors like Sequoia, Accel and Nexus.

By combining indigenous R&D with strategic partnerships, India’s pharmaceutical industry is now developing a solid product pipeline and positioning itself as an emerging global player in the high growth field of immuno-oncology. With improving infrastructure and patient awareness, many world-class low-cost immuno-therapies made in India could become available for cancer patients across the globe in the near future. This would not only meet medical needs more affordably but also enable a multiplier effect on the country’s overall healthcare sector achievement.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it