A Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company has developed a novel medication that could offer hope to those suffering from a rare form of throat cancer.
The innovative antibody drug is the first Chinese-developed cancer treatment approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and could be made available for clinical use as soon as next year.
Developed by Shanghai Junshi Biosciences, Toripalimab was cleared by the FDA in late October and will be sold in the US under the name, Loqtorzi. The drug was developed specifically to treat nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a malignant and aggressive cancer that typically originates near the upper throat region and behind the nasal cavity.
The cancer cells express a protein that binds to the programmed cell death protein (PD-1) receptor in the afflicted site, blocking an immune response. Toripalimab works by binding to the PD-1 receptor instead, allowing the immune system to get to work attacking the tumour.
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is relatively rare in the US and is far more prevalent in northern Africa, southern China and many parts of southeast Asia, according to US-based biotech firm, Coherus.
The disease is particularly troublesome to treat effectively as its location makes it near-impossible for surgeons to reach. Chemotherapy rarely works too, with only 20 percent of cases experiencing a year of progression-free survival, according to the South China Morning Post.
Toripalimab was the first, and currently only, biopharmaceutical developed and produced in China approved by the FDA, as per a press statement by Shanghai Junshi Biosciences.
Xu Ruihua, an oncologist and professor working out of the Sun Yat-sen University Cancer Centre, said he was hopeful the drug would close the treatment gap for patients struggling with nasopharyngeal carcinoma worldwide.
Clinical trials showed that when used alongside chemotherapy drugs during initial treatment, Toripalimab decreased the risk of progression or death by 48 percent compared to patients who only received chemotherapy. In terms of overall survival, patients who received the newly-approved drug saw a 37 percent reduction in their mortality rate.
Toripalimab can be used in conjunction with chemotherapy medications cisplatin and gemcitabine, or as a stand-alone treatment for patients with non-surgically removable tumours that have failed to respond to traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
First approved for use and treatment of melanoma in China in 2018, Toripalimab is effective against several diseases, including bladder, oesophageal and certain lung cancers. It is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of other cancers, including liver, breast, kidney and gastric cancers.
The firm plans on distributing the potentially life-saving medication to as many as 50 countries worldwide, said Li Ning, chief executive of Shanghai Junshi Biosciences.