Singapore AUM Biosciences witnesses opportunities in Asia and India
By: Asia Business Outlook Team | Thursday, 18 November 2021
Singapore-based AUM Biosciences has lately closed funding of USD27 million for global cancer drug development, sees a lot of untapped opportunities in Asia and India.
''AUM is set to leverage on software expertise in the technology hubs of India. We are working on a win-win situation, taking Indian expertise along with our journey through the Silicon Valley and American funding to be a global service provider in the bioscience industry,'' Vishal Doshi, CEO, Co-founder, told on Thursday.
''AUM, founded in 2018, has all the ingredients towards becoming a global success story. There are a lot of untapped opportunities in the region, including India, to improve on the commercialisation of good quality science and bring them to the world,'' he said.
The best place for commercialisation of drugs is the US where start-ups and unicorns get the easier mode of financing and enjoys industry support for a broader scope of R&D work, as per Doshi.
While focused on being part of the American technology network and amid the Silicon Valley-based innovators, Doshi wants to share his developed products with the Asian markets. ''AUM is emerging as one of its kind biotech start-ups in the oncology space and we are now positioned to bring in more agility to cancer drug development and treatment,'' stated Doshi, a third-generation pharmacist registered in India whose grandfather, a registered pharmacist in British-ruled India had migrated from Burma and started pharmacy post-independence in the 1950s in Mumbai.
Noting the efforts some of the Asia countries, counting India, are making in developing healthcare infrastructure, Doshi is still concerned about the rising number of patients with unmet needs in non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.
India, with the Government's new policies and initiatives to have an insurance-driven health sector, accounts for more than half of the 7 per cent annual growth in the Asian healthcare expenditure which in 2022 will be USD2.4 trillion.
Asia accounts for roughly 50 per cent of global new cancer cases, while nearly 2.25 million people are living with cancer in India, he pointed out.
The Asian biotechnology landscape has enhanced, but the Western drug development programmes still remain the focus for the majority. In 2017, 55 oncology drugs were approved globally but fewer than 20 per cent of
these medicines are available in emerging markets, he noted.But Doshi wants to bring about a change in the way diseases are treated such as the availability of drugs and treatments of cancer in Asia.
''AUM is focused on addressing this significant unmet need in cancer treatment, and we differentiate ourselves by taking cutting edge research and science, adopting value-based innovation models and making it commercially viable,'' he said.
''Our teams, in the United States, Singapore, Australia and India, successful track record and the long-term vision will deliver huge benefits for patients in the Asia Pacific and hopefully allow for cancer treatment to be accessible and affordable to all one day, benefiting patients, payers and physicians in Asia and around the world,'' he said.
He elaborates, ''Our team plans to achieve this by focusing on identifying and developing 'niche busters' targeting highly selective oncology therapeutics. Knowing and understanding the target of critical genomic drivers of cancer has opened the door on rational drug development where we can design drugs to hit these targets, as opposed to having many other and sometimes unwanted effects.'' Cancer is one of the world’s largest health problems with almost 10 million people globally dying from the illness every year and cancer drug development can take an average of 10 to 12 years to complete while being extremely costly for patients to afford. Against this backdrop, AUM’s approach to cancer therapy is looking to adopt a holistic strategy in oncology drug development, said Doshi, who has worked in international markets and now resides in Singapore.
Traditional cancer therapies rely on toxic chemicals to kill cancer cells as a whole, which would lead to tremendous and crippling collateral damage on patients’ physical bodies, such as immunocompromise, hair loss and weight loss as some examples.
''What we are trying to do at AUM is to understand the biology of cancer, which means we are slicing and dicing cancer into a thousand plus orphan indications. We now develop drugs rationally that engage the target in question and result in potentially lower collateral damage. With the advent of combination therapies, patients are hoping to live a longer and healthy life.
''Specifically, we want to optimise and accelerate drug development from that critical Phase I to Phase II period, and within our target therapeutic area of oncology, increase the probability of success from 9 per cent to a minimum target of 30 per cent. That was our starting point. We, therefore, created our unique and innovative holistic development strategy, which is founded on a singular purpose: maximum value creation for both patients and drug development companies.'' The major problem within the oncology drug development industry is the low likelihood of approvals by regulators. For instance, the likelihood of approvals for oncology drug candidates from Phase I to Phase III is approximately 9 per cent. One in ten drugs does not make it to Phase III, he pointed out.
Although firms have to recoup the costs of those nine failed drugs somehow, and ultimately, those costs of failure are passed on to patients, according to Doshi.
Secondly, looking at data over the past decade, the cost of developing new drugs averaged USD1.2 billion in 2010, while in 2018, data suggests that the average costs were USD2.8 billion.
''As such the R&D costs to patients are increasing. This is a concern we have to address, and given today's technology, we must address the cost factor for the common man especially in backward communities such as those living in remote regions in bigger countries like India,'' he said. AUM's series A funding round, closed in October 2021, was led by private equity funds including Singapore-based Everlife and globally focused health sciences investment firm SPRIM Global investments (SGI).