By Pratch Rujivanarom
CHULALONGKORN University’s research team has reached the first milestone in developing an affordable biologic drug but needs Bt1.33 billion in funding to pursue the remaining phases of the study.
Chulalongkorn Cancer Immunotherapy Excellence Centre announced at a press conference yesterday that its team had made progress in the research to develop immunotherapy treatment for cancer.
The team said they had successfully extracted the prototype antibody from mice, and they should be able to develop cheaper domestically produced immunotherapy cancer drugs within eight years.
Lead researcher Dr Trairak Pisitkun said the prototype developed from a mice antibody has proved to be as effective as imported biological drugs, and the team was inching closer to achieving further progress in the second phase.
“We are making good progress considering we began the research programme only in October last year,” he said.
“However, we still have a long way to go before we can start producing biologic drugs at an affordable price. Immunotherapy currently costs up to Bt300,000 per dose in Thailand,” he said. Trairat explained that immunotherapy in some cases |could cost as much as Bt8 million, which is far too expensive for many Thais.
“This project would help Thailand produce its own biologic drugs, which could cost just Bt20,000 per dose, and would overwhelmingly cut down reliance on imported drugs,” Trairak said.
“Moreover, it will promote the development of Thailand’s biologic drugs industry, which will benefit the economy.”
Dr Nattiya Hirankarn, chief of the Chulolongkorn Cancer Immunotherapy Excellence Centre, said the centre was currently researching three immunotherapy treatment options – therapeutic antibody, cellular immunotherapy and personalised cancer vaccine. The study on therapeutic antibody or biologic drug for cancer had made the most progress, Nattiya said.
“Biologic drugs help strengthen a cancer patient’s immune system so it can efficiently combat cancer cells. The medicine unlocks the protection system of cancer cells and allows white blood cells to eliminate them without harming other parts of the body,” Nattiya explained.
It has been scientifically proved that biologic cancer immunotherapy can treat 15 types of cancer, including skin, lung, kidney, cervical and colorectal cancer without causing severe side effects.
However, Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine dean Dr Suttipong Wacharasindhu said research of this scale requires large sums of money, and even though the university has acquired a government budget of Bt160 million, it was far from enough to cover the entire project. Hence, the Cancer Immunotherapy Fund is trying to raise donations to help subsidise the programme.
“As of today [yesterday], we have already received Bt73 million in donations. We are very grateful for the overwhelming response in a very short time,” he said.
“However, our work is only in the initial phase, so we would like to seek continuous partnership and contributions for the path ahead.”