Bangalore company sees R&D scope in neglected diseases

Bangalore company sees R&D scope in neglected diseases

New Delhi /Mumbai: Having signed its first drug development deal for liver disease leishmaniasis (known as kala-azar in India) with a global health agency, Bangalore’s Advinus Therapeutics Pvt. Ltd plans to sharpen its focus on neglected diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, and expects two more research contracts in a year.

The drug discovery firm, in which the Tata group has invested, is also bullish on undertaking research and developing drugs under so-called “targeted therapies", traditional medicine and—if it can find a suitable partner—even novel biological drugs. “We expect, in the next 12 months, to have two more research collaborations and our focus will remain on neglected diseases such as kala-azar, malaria and tuberculosis," Rashmi Barbhaiya, managing director of Advinus, said on the sidelines of an industry event on Friday. Collaborations among domestic drug makers will help address India’s disease burden that is ignored by most global drug companies.

On Thursday, Advinus had signed a five-year agreement with a Geneva-based not-for-profit health agency, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, to develop drugs for kala-azar or visceral leishmaniasis, a disease affecting the liver, spleen, bone marrow and lymph nodes, and infecting more than 500,000 people in Asia (including India), Africa and South America. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Accordingly to the World Health Organization, India, with 30% of world’s tuberculosis-infected population, has 450,000 people dying from it every year. Worldwide, 300 million cases and up to 2 million deaths are reported annually due to malaria.

Barbhaiya said Advinus will also “seriously look at the option" of developing “targeted therapy" drugs in the oncology and hypertension areas. This is a new branch of medicine that aims to make drugs more effective by customizing them to the biological profile of the patient to whom it is being administered. “We have the capabilities and we will seriously look at it as ‘individual medicine’ is certainly the way forward. Currently, only 10-15% people respond to medicines fully, the rest don’t," Barbhaiya added. Another area where Advinus may start research is traditional medicine and new biological drugs. But since such research is costly, Barbhaiya said it is important that Advinus find a good partner.

At the same event, Sandeep Gupta, managing director, Eli Lilly India Pvt. Ltd, said that collaboration was increasingly critical for drug firms given the escalating cost of developing drugs, falling research productivity, and the end of the era of blockbuster drugs (with more than $1 billion [Rs3,930 crore] in revenues).

“From being a fully integrated pharmaceutical company, we have become (a) virtually integrated pharmaceutical company where we do what we can do best and outsource the rest," added Gupta.

Barbhaiya explained that for Indian research companies, both cost competitiveness and speed of delivery are important. “Most of these companies are lean and nimble footed. They make decisions quickly and deliver faster. If in an effective patent life of 17 years, six months can be saved during research for a blockbuster drug, it will mean $500 million more in revenues," he said.