A class of drugs is emerging that can attack cancer cells in the body without damaging surrounding healthy ones. They have the potential to replace chemotherapy and its disruptive side effects, reshaping the future of cancer care.
The complex biological medicines, called antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), have been in development for decades, and are now generating renewed excitement because of the success of one ADC in late-stage testing, a breast cancer treatment called DS-8201.
The fervor over ADCs is such that AstraZeneca Plc in March agreed to pay as much as $6.9 billion to jointly develop DS-8201 with Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo Co., the British drugmaker’s biggest deal in more than a decade. The investment was widely seen to be a validation of DS-8201’s potential — and the ADC class of drugs as a whole — as an alternative for chemotherapy, the most widely used treatment, for some types of cancer.
DS-8201, which will be filed for U.S. approval by the end of September, is so well-regarded that some analysts already predict it will surpass the $7 billion in annual sales for Roche Holding AG’s breast cancer drug Herceptin, which it aims to replace.
“DS-8201 may become one of the largest cancer biologic drugs,’’ said Caroline Stewart, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, who estimates sales of the drug to eventually approach $12 billion globally — that’s a level attained by only a handful of biologics, which are drugs based on a living organism. “While the field has advanced and there are several companies focusing on ADCs, Daiichi in particular seems to have developed a unique expertise.”
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