The country’s first CAR-T cell therapy to treat a specific type of blood cancer is generating interest in the country and overseas, in regions where the product is not available.

Born off an academia-industry partnership, the therapy was in the limelight, on Thursday, when President Droupadi Murmu spoke about the home-gown effort and the difference it would make to patient lives, being more affordable than the internationally available products.

The number of patients on the therapy has already increased from single digits to about 25 a month, who have been treated at the Tata hospitals, said Hasmukh Jain. Professor, Medical Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), who lead the trial of this therapy in adults. Priced at about ₹40 lakh, or one-tenth the global price of this therapy (about ₹4 crore), it is expensive, said Jain.

Curative impact

The curative impact of the one-time therapy, especially in younger individuals, was being keenly followed by the medical community, he said, adding that more training was required of the medical community for wider adoption. The product can be made more affordable through measures including tightening of processes and government intervention on taxes, Jain told businessline, adding that patients were being supported through Trusts, CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds and health insurance.

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay and TMH collaborated on developing the therapy.It was taken to commercialisation by industry partner ImmunoAct, an IIT-B incubated company in which Hyderabad-based Laurus Labs holds 34 per cent equity. The therapy received regulatory approval in October and was commercialised in December 2023.

The therapy involves taking the patient’s blood and separating the T cells (tasked with identifying and destroying the cancer cells), Jain explained. This is then engineered and put back into the patient to attack the cancer cells. Since it is personalised at present, scalability is a factor the industry-partner was handling, he said, even as partnerships were being formalised with countries like Mexico, to make available this therapy.

Laurus Labs Executive Vice President, Rajaram said, the company was setting up a second facility that will increase annual production capacity from 400 to about 3000 units. The economies of scale could bring the price down, he said, adding that the product was presently available at about 40 hospitals in the country. Discussions were underway with other countries to make the product available, he added.

While international CAR-T products from Novartis and Gilead, for example are not available in India, other Indian companies on the similar products include Immuneel Therapeutics and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, said industry-observers.