In an interaction with ETHealthworld, Arun Mehra MD and CEO at APAC Biotech, shares the potential of dendritic cell-based personalised immunotherapy for treating cancer patients and the company’s expansion plans.
Q: How does personalised immunotherapies like APCEDEN provide significant benefit to cancer patients?
Arun Mehra: Unlike the conventional pharmaceutical products, APAC’s Personalised Immunotherapy Treatment APCEDEN, is based on utilising the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Two individuals, suffering from the same type of cancer, may experience totally different variations of the malady and behaviour of disease progression, thus making it difficult to treat cancer and for this reason, oncology is one field where personalised medicine is evolving rapidly.
The more these treatments are tailored according to each patient, the higher are the chances for effectively treating the patient’s cancer. Personalisation – creating a specialized tailored therapy for each patient wasn’t possible before. The goal is to allow patients a prolonged pain-free time and to control the spread of the tumor.
Personalised Immunotherapies like APCEDEN have a significant advantage compared with conventional drugs: the immune cells are “smart and specific” and can actively distinguish between healthy dividing and malignant cells. Moreover, immunotherapies work by mobilising natural processes and do not involve any toxic components like some chemotherapies.
As a result, immunotherapies are followed by virtually no unwanted side effects, and are much more agreeable and safer than chemotherapy. Most patients taking these therapies do not further deteriorate, or lose hair, or have to stop working; instead, the patients go right on with their normal lives.
Q: Tell us about the procedure and duration involved in developing the personalised drug.
Arun Mehra: APAC’s dendritic cell therapy requires two cell collection procedures to be performed on the patient prior to the manufacturing of dendritic cell therapy. These are:-
1) Biopsy/Surgery procedure to get the tumor tissue
2) Leukapheresis to collect PBMCs (peripheral blood mononuclear cells).
From the PBMCs, the patient’s precursor dendritic cells are isolated and co-cultured with the protein lysate prepared from the tumor tissue to prime the cells to recognise the tumor. This process is unique and patented by APAC to manufacture activated cells and we have a license from the Indian FDA to manufacture it as a personalised cancer therapy.
The manufacturing process takes approximately 8 days from when the 2 samples are received at our facility in Gurugram, India. In total 6 doses are manufactured. These antigen primed Dendritic Cells are then infused back into the patient every 15 days. The treatment lasts up to 3 months.
Q: What is the demand that you anticipate for Dendritic Cell-based immunotherapy in the coming years?
Arun Mehra: Dendritic cell-based personalised immunotherapy is considered the most potent antigen introducing cells. The uniqueness of this cancer treatment has gathered attention from the scientific community and driven applications of this technology into major treatments across the globe.
The potential of the immune system to fight cancer cells was recognised three decades earlier and since then, advancement in scientific capability has led to the development of novel ally for cancer patients.
The Global Cancer Vaccine market is poised to reach a whopping $7.61 billion in 2023, at a CAGR of 15.85%.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, biotechnology has moved forward at the speed of light and with growing awareness regarding the importance of the immune system, doctors and cancer patients are leaning more towards immunotherapy cancer treatments that strengthen the immune system.
Q: What is the recent development on APAC Biotech’s new products for two very aggressive cancers – GBM and PDAC?
Arun Mehra: This new product named LTR-M or LTR-Memvaxraleucel is also a Dendritic Cell-based formulation and personalized. However, the end product is mRNA based and therefore more potent and has been shown to also generate a stronger and more durable memory response as seen in pre-clinical studies.
APAC has also signed an agreement with AIIMS for conducting a trial with the new immunotherapy product on 120 GBM patients.
This trial will be a first-of-its-kind clinical trial in India. With the formal approvals in place, APAC Biotech is seeking a funding source to fund these highly advanced clinical trials.
Q: What are APAC Biotech’s expansion plans going forward?
Arun Mehra: With the current expanding market and growing need for innovative cancer treatments, APAC Biotech plans to:-
Deep dive into various advanced Immunotherapy research- APAC Biotech has in-licensed a new Immunotherapy technology, LTR-Memvaxraleucel™ that increases the potency of the dendritic cell-based treatment. As seen in its initial study, the treatment is able to create a memory in the immune system and when the body is challenged with the reoccurrence of a cancer tumor, it is able to fight the tumor on its own.
Expand the current facility to cater to the growing number of cancer patients- We have witnessed a drastic growth in the number of cancer patients — there has been an increase in the number of queries by over 25%, post-pandemic. Besides the current limited treatment capacity of APAC Biotech’s laboratory, we are trying to raise funds to create a much larger facility that will not only help us scale up manufacturing from 300 patients/annum to 15000 patients/annum but also further our research on novel cancer immunotherapy technologies.
Conduct APCEDEN clinical trials on glioblastoma multiforme and pancreatic duct adenocarcinoma patients- At the moment, we cannot share the names as we are still in initial discussions with various multi-speciality hospitals in India as well as abroad.
Expand the current facility to cater to the growing number of cancer patients
To fund the expansion plans APAC Biotech is in search of like-minded investors, venture capitalists and has been even knocking on the doors of various government organisations.
Q: How have been the government’s response towards funding the innovation at APAC Biotech? Are there any challenges you are facing?
Although with the recent approval of our treatment methodology, the government shares our vision to enhance the biotechnology space in India, there hasn’t been a much favourable response with respect to funding the innovation. This is also due to the ongoing pandemic and the following slowdown as the discussions were quite delayed.
With respect to private funding, the response has been quite lukewarm due to the fact that India has never been seen as an innovator in the biotech space but always a follower, which although is slowly changing with the recent developments in vaccinations and medications during the pandemic.
Due to the lack of funds, APAC is unable to effectively communicate its breakthrough innovations with the medical fraternity and potential cancer patients, which is a major hindrance as of today.