In a recent press release, biopharmaceutical company Junshi Biosciences (“Junshi”) announced a burgeoning collaboration with leading biologics platform company Coherus BioSciences, Inc. (“Coherus”). The pair is working to develop and market Toripalimab, an anti-PD-1 antibody, in Canada and America for the treatment of patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
Toripalimab is an anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody, the first of its kind to receive marketing approval in China. The American Cancer Society describes monoclonal antibodies as:
man-made proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system.
Thus far, Toripalimab has shown promise in a multitude of clinical trials; over 30 clinical trials have been performed to date, with over 2,100 patients being dosed. Toripalimab is currently indicated as a second-line treatment for metastatic melanoma and metastatic urothelial carcinoma, and a third-line treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma, within China. Currently, Toripalimab received Breakthrough Therapy and Orphan Drug designations for nasopharyngeal carcinoma and mucosal melanoma, Fast Track Designation for mucosal melanoma, and Orphan Drug designation for soft tissue sarcoma in the United States. However, a Biologics License Application (BLA) to approve Toripalimab for the use of nasopharyngeal carcinoma in the U.S. is not expected to be filed until later in 2021.
Additional clinical trials are exploring Toripalimab in regards to bladder cancer, gastric adenocarcinoma, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, small cell lung cancer (SCLC), and multiple other malignancies.
If Junshi grants the Toripalimab license to Coherus, the company will receive $1.11 billion in payment. While the pair will develop the drug together, Coherus will handle the commercialization within the North American sphere. If Coherus would like, the Company also has an option for JS006, a recombinant humanized IgG4κ monoclonal antibody against human TIGIT, and JS018-1, an engineered interleukin 2 (IL-2) cytokine.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, nasopharyngeal carcinoma:
also known as NPC, is a rare tumor of the head and neck which originates in the nasopharynx, [located] at the very back of the nose near the Eustachian tubes. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is more common in Southeast Asia and is frequently, but not always, caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
This form of cancer is extremely rare in the United States and Canada. However, it is more common in males than females, and, within the United States, more common in those with Asian or Pacific Islander heritage. The American Cancer Society also notes that there are three main subtypes of nasopharyngeal carcinoma:
- Non-keratinizing undifferentiated carcinoma (this is the most common type of NPC in the US.)
- Non-keratinizing differentiated carcinoma
- Keratinizing squamous cell carcinoma
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
- Lump in your neck
- Nose or mouth bleeding
- Difficulty breathing through your nose or popping your ears
- Hearing loss
- Frequent ear infections
- Facial pain or numbness