Korean pharmaceutical companies are increasingly competing to develop new treatments for hard-to-treat liver diseases.
Called a silent organ, liver sends no signal when damaged, which makes it difficult for initial treatment. Once destroyed, the liver cannot be easily recovered, and it could be fatal to the patient.
To widen live treatment options, Pharmicell, HLB Life Science, SillaJen, Samil Pharmaceutical, and Hanmi Pharmaceutical are accelerating researches on various drug candidates.
The companies are working on the medicines in a variety of forms, including synthetic chemical drugs, stem cell treatments, and biopharmaceuticals.
Pharmicell, which has a stem cell treatment called Hearticellgram, is waiting to obtain conditional approval for Cellgram LC, a stem cell therapy for cirrhosis.
The Cellgram LC therapy extracts mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow of the patient, cultured outside of the body, and injected it into the right femoral artery of the patient via a hepatic artery catheter.
The treatment aims to improve the fibrosis of alcohol-damaged liver tissues and restore liver function. If approved, Cellgram LC will become the fifth stem cell therapy in Korea.
HLB’s subsidiary HLB Life Science has a 97 percent stake in Life Liver, a biopharmaceutical firm. Life Liver is collaborating with Samsung Medical Center to develop a bioartificial liver. Life Liver’s bioartificial liver completed a phase-2a clinical study in March last year.
HLB and SillaJen, which made headlines with its engineered oncolytic virus Pexa-Vec, are also focusing on liver drug development.
HLB’s flagship pipeline Apatinib can be used for various indications such as lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and liver cancer. The company announced the results of combination therapy, using Apatinib with BMS’ Nivolumab (Opdivo) at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research last year.
SillaJen is pinning hope on Pexa-Vec. The biotech firm has been continuously monitoring the complete remission rate of Pexa-Vec through various trials. SillaJen has announced that a Chinese partner firm Lee’s Pharmaceutical will begin a global phase-3 study in the second quarter of this year for the oncolytic immunotherapy in liver cancer.
The global phase-3 trials will be on 600 liver cancer patients, and more than half of the patients will be Chinese. Thus, results of the study will depend on the results of trials in China.
About half of the world’s 850,000 liver cancer patients are from China. Pexa-Vec’s clinical results in China are likely to have a significant impact on approval in the future, observers said.
Samil Pharm under the helm of CEO Huh Seung-bum, grandson of founder Huh Yong, is steadily investing in liver disease treatments. In 2016, the company scouted Kwak Eui-jong as an advisor. Kwak previously served as CEO of Pharma King, famous for liver treatments.
Samil has adopted Aramchol, a clinical-stage drug for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease developed by Israeli drugmaker Galmed. The Korean firm is conducting clinical trials in the U.S. and Europe. In 2017, the drugmaker signed a memorandum of understanding with Institute Pasteur Korea for the development of new liver drugs.
Hanmi Pharm won the nod from the U.S. FDA to go ahead with a phase-1 study on HM15211, a biopharmaceutical drug to treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
“Many types of liver diseases occur, but treatments are rare. Developing a new liver treatment may be difficult. But, many drugmakers’ efforts to work on new drugs are drawing attention because they can be the only treatment if commercialized,” said a pharmaceutical source.
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