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Pharma cos in heated battle for cancer drug market

Madhumathi D.S.

Bangalore , Oct. 2

The next gold rush in the national pharma space seems to be for cancer and related drugs.

In August and September alone, a spate of key announcements were made in this segment by Biocon, Merck, Eli Lilly, Dr Reddy's Labs and Zenotech Labs.

Biocon launched BIOMAb EGFR for head-and-neck cancer in mid-September, while Merck said that its drug Erbitux, for head-and-neck and colorectal cancer, has received regulatory clearance.

Also vying for presence in Rs 800-crore oncology market are AstraZeneca Pharma India; Eli Lilly, which is entering its newly approved Alimta; and DRL, which has tied up with ClinTec to co-develop anti-cancer compound DRF 1042.

Zenotech Labs has said that it will start marketing one generic oncology drug each of Novartis and Amgen/Roche.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca expects to be a dominant player in the country by 2008. It has five of the parent's seven oncology brands and is conducting trials before bringing in some more.

The cancer rush is a global phenomenon, according to Dr Subir Basak, head of Biocon's new Oncotherapeutics Division. Fighting the No 2 killer has become an obsession with pharma companies, scientists, engineers and clinicians worldwide, he told Business Line.

According to Dr Basak, a medical paradigm shift is happening, now that cardiovascular problems - the focus of the 90s - are being managed using statins and other means.

As a disease, cancer has not been "cracked well," which is why it currently attracts 60 per cent of all global trials. And India has a high incidence of one million cancer cases a year.

Pharma consultant Mr V.R. Kannan agreed that cancer is now the new urgency for pharma players. "Almost every other disease segment has seen its best therapies that are now coming to an end, from anti-ulceratives to cardiovascular drugs and antibiotics. Any new molecule in these segments is turning out to be only a finer cousin of the older one."

Until now, anti-cancer therapy was the privileged zone of a few companies. It is slowly getting fragmented largely due to the spread of quick diagnosis to the district level.

"What was once a low-competition, high-priced and polarised field is now getting fragmented," along with a mushrooming of cancer hospitals, he said.

Not only are cancer therapies growing, the co-prescription or support drugs to prevent side-effects on other organs will also move up, according to Mr Kannan.

Biocon, for one, is putting together a comprehensive, diverse cancer care line including targeted therapy and supportive care, Dr Basak said, without elaborating.

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