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The Economic Times: Medical breakthrough! Aurigene closer to developing cancer treatment capsule

By Vikas Dandekar, ET Bureau | Jul 01, 2016, 03.44 AM IST


MUMBAI: Aurigene Discovery Technologies has moved one step closer to developing a capsule that can potentially alter the treatment paradigm from painful intravenous injections currently used to treat advanced form of cancers such as melanoma, lung cancer and advanced renal cell carcinoma. The Bengaluru-based company is an independent subsidiary of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories and its United States-based partner Curis Inc.

The two partners recently announced the dosing of the first patient as part of a phase one clinical trial for the drug coded CA-170, which has been described by industry watchers as a breakthrough and first such candidate in the world in a fiercely competed set of experimental drugs called checkpoint inhibitors.

Checkpoint inhibitors or the mechanism of blocking proteins that are expressed on cancer cells or immune cells in the human body and trigger the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells is the latest frontier in cancer research with large drug makers pumping in billions of dollars in search of effective leads.

For Curis Inc and Aurgiene Discovery Technologies, the journey is likely to be long and tedious, with associated risks of failure in clinical development cycle, and could take four to six years to reach a stage of commercialisation. But if all goes well, a bounty awaits, experts said. The two marketed intravenous drugs Keytruda (pembrolizumab) of Merck and Opdivo (nivolumab) from Bristol Myers Squibb clocked about $1.5 billion or Rs 10,000 crore in sales in 2015.

The industry expects the expanding field of immune-oncology drugs including blockers of immune checkpoints such as CTLA4, PD-1, Vista, TIM3 and others to top $35 billion in revenue in the next eight years. Aurigene Discovery Technologies CEO CSN Murthy told ET, “The success of this (CA-170) programme will pave the way for a number of other oral immune checkpoint inhibitors in the pipeline at Aurigene, including a dual PD-L1/TIM3 inhibitor also licensed to the same partner – Curis Inc. Aurigene’s platform technology will see multiple opportunities develop over the next couple of years.”

According to the company’s researchers, CA-170, a dual PD-L1/Vista inhibitor agent, has many firsts to its credit. The ability to simultaneously block two important immune checkpoints, PD-L1and Vista, can potentially address certain patients who show resistance to existing therapies, they said.

By being the only oral capsule in development, the drug adds to the convenience and compliance of patients. As a small molecule (in contrast to the existing checkpoint inhibitors that are large proteins), the potential for CA-170 to penetrate cancer tissues is much higher. Additionally, CA-170 provides added flexibility to combine with other anti-cancer agents to provide better safety profile, especially in cases of immune related adverse events.