April 20, 2024
India's Immuno-Oncology

Immuno-Oncology Drugs in India: Prospects and Challenges

India has emerged as one of the leading players in the global pharmaceutical industry over the past few decades. With a large population, a fast-growing economy, and a skilled workforce, India is well-positioned to develop and manufacture affordable drugs for domestic as well as global markets. One promising area that is gaining traction in India’s pharmaceutical sector is immuno-oncology drugs. These novel therapies are revolutionizing cancer treatment globally by harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Let us examine the prospects and challenges for India in developing and commercializing immuno-oncology drugs.

Emergence of India’s Immuno-Oncology as a New Treatment Paradigm

Traditional cancer therapies like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery have significant limitations as they directly target cancer cells but do little to stimulate the body’s natural defenses against the disease. In contrast, immuno-oncology therapies activate and assist the immune system to identify and eliminate cancer cells more effectively. The past decade has seen major breakthroughs in developing drugs that block inhibitory checkpoints on immune cells or provide co-stimulatory signals to enhance their anti-tumor activity. Checkpoint inhibitors targeting CTLA-4, PD-1, and PD-L1 have demonstrated durable responses and improved survival rates in several cancer types. The success of drugs like Keytruda, Opdivo, and Tecentriq has validated immuno-oncology as the fifth pillar of cancer treatment alongside surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapies.

Significance for India’s Pharma Sector

With the global immuno-oncology drugs market projected to grow at a CAGR of over 14% to surpass $150 billion by 2030, this presents a big opportunity for Indian pharmaceutical companies. Several homegrown firms like Dr. Reddy’s, Cipla, Sun Pharma, Glenmark, and Natco have initiated research and partnerships to develop biosimilars as well as novel immuno-oncology therapies. Besides manufacturing generics, developing affordable novel anti-cancer drugs would help strengthen India’s position as the pharmacy of the world. Considering that cancer diagnoses are increasing rapidly in India, domestically-developed low-cost immunotherapies could help treat more patients. Moreover, India’s manufacturing prowess and cost competitiveness enhances its attractiveness as an outsourcing destination for foreign pharmaceutical corporations.

Challenges in Research and Development

While the prospects are promising, developing novel immuno-oncology drugs involves major challenges and risks. Understanding molecular pathways, designing biomarkers, conducting clinical trials, and securing regulatory approvals requires significant funding, expertise, and time – estimated to be over $2.6 billion for each new drug. Most Indian companies have limited experience in advanced research necessitating greater investments and collaborations. Attracting and retaining top research talent also remains a hurdle, considering the competitive environment globally. Further, developing targeted therapies for cancers highly prevalent in India like breast, cervical, and oral cancer requires a focus on appropriate biomarkers as well as trials on diverse populations. Ultimately, affordable access to the latest diagnostic technologies, reliable research infrastructure, and policy support will determine India’s success.

Manufacturing Capabilities and Biosimilar Development

Where India holds clear strengths is in drug manufacturing and biosimilars. Having the largest vaccine producer and third-largest pharmaceutical industry globally, India possesses sizable infrastructure and a sizable low-cost skilled workforce for mass-scale production. Several Indian companies have already commercialized or filed applications for biosimilar versions of immuno-oncology blockbusters like bevacizumab, trastuzumab, and rituximab. In addition to lowering treatment costs, successful development of biosimilars would provide crucial experience and revenues to invest further in novel research. The government’s Production Linked Incentive Scheme also offers incentives for biosimilar makers. With process optimization skills and a track record in regulated markets, India is poised to become a premier manufacturing hub and reliable supplier of affordable biologics to the world.

Way Forward for India

To realize its full potential in immuno-oncology, India needs enhanced academic-industry partnerships involving major cancer research institutes and hospitals working together with pharma companies. Careful patient selection, pragmatic clinical trial designs, and data-sharing between collaborators can accelerate the drug development cycle. Developing specialized cancer centers of excellence focusing on immuno-oncology could attract global biotechs as well. The Indian government’s cancer control efforts emphasizing early diagnosis and screening must complement drug development initiatives. With a pro-innovation policy push, talent cultivation, and quality infrastructure improvements, India’s pharma sector has the capability to establish the country as a global force in developing the next generation of transformative immuno-oncology treatments.

In summary, India has promising prospects to emerge as a leader in developing and manufacturing low-cost immuno-oncology drugs to address the rising cancer burden domestically as well as globally. Though challenges in research, talent, and infrastructure exist, strategic policy support, partnerships, and leveraging manufacturing strengths can help maximize India’s potential in this vitally important domain and uplift its status as a global life sciences innovation hub. Immuno-oncology offers India Pharma a huge opportunity to develop novel treatments as well as drive job creation and economic growth through generic drugs and biosimilars. With determination and wise investments, India’s pharma sector is well equipped to become a prime immuno-oncology solutions provider worldwide.

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