Understanding Chugai’s history that fostered the business philosophy “Innovation all for the patients”
Chugai’s innovative drug discovery is supported by its unique antibody engineering technologies. Therapeutic antibody drugs use the innate immune function (antigen-antibody reaction) of the human body. They work by recognizing surface markers such as cancer cells and proteins from diseased tissues as antigens and targeting them with pinpoint accuracy to achieve high therapeutic efficacy and reduced side effects.
Starting with the creation of Japan’s first antibody drug Actemra®, Chugai has been launching antibody drugs one after another. In recent years, the company has further developed this technology to produce proprietary technologies such as sweeping antibodies, bispecific antibodies and switch antibodies. New antibody engineering technologies hold the potential of drug discovery for diseases with no treatment, as well as the potential for discovering new biology and revolutionary treatment methods that are still unknown.
Point1: Launch of Actemra®, Japan’s first antibody drug. Actemra® has grown into a product with global reach
In 2005, Chugai launched Actemra®, the first therapeutic antibody produced in Japan. 15 years since its introduction in Japan, Actemra® has grown into a product sold in more than 110 countries worldwide through the channels of the Roche Group. The product is manufactured at the Utsunomiya Plant and shipped to patients worldwide, realizing the ambition incorporated in Chugai’s name at its founding: to provide Japanese pharmaceuticals overseas.
Point2: Announcement of Recycling antibody® technology, pioneering proprietary antibody technology for the future
Chugai is focusing on the development of next-generation antibody technologies. Its innovative antibody engineering technology called Recycling Antibody®, which prolongs the effect of a drug by binding to an antigen multiple times, was announced in Nature Biotechnology in October 2010. In addition, Sweeping Antibody®, which was developed by applying Recycling Antibody® technology, has the feature of being able to remove a large amount of antigens with fewer antibodies. In August 2020, Enspring®, the first drug based on Recycling antibody technology, was launched for the treatment of Neuromyelitis Spectrum Disorder (NMOSD), which has been designated as an incurable disease.
Point3: Eight indications for five products receive US FDA Breakthrough Therapy designations
[June 2013 - December 2019]
The breakthrough therapy designation of the U.S. FDA is aimed at expediting the development and review of drugs for the treatment of severe or life-threatening diseases or symptoms. A drug must be highly innovative to receive the designation, but receiving it is valuable for various reasons. For example, a drug with this designation receives priority review, which shortens the development period, bringing the drug to patients as quickly as possible. Five Chugai products have received eight breakthrough therapy designations.
Point4: Birth of Hemlibra®, a hemophilia treatment based on bispecific antibody technology
While conventional antibodies only bind to the same antigen, “bispecific antibodies” can bind to two different antigens, allowing for an unconventional approach to drug discovery. Using this technology, we launched Hemlibra® in May 2018. The strong desire of the developers to address unmet medical need was the driving force behind the drug discovery research, which resulted in an unprecedented treatment.
Point5: Announcement of Switch antibody technology to address weaknesses in antibody drugs
Although therapeutic antibody drugs offer a therapeutic approach not available with small molecule drugs, there are challenges. One challenge is “on-target toxicity,” in which toxicity increases once the antibody binds to the target molecule. One solution is the Switch antibody technology announced by Chugai in 2019. This technology focuses on a small molecule (switch molecule) which is present at high extracellular concentrations in tumors. The Switch antibody is designed to “switch on,” or bind to the target antigen only in a tumor microenvironment, but “switch off,” or not bind to the antigen in normal tissues. As a result, target molecules that have been undruggable due to the increase in toxicity can be made druggable, greatly extending the boundaries of drug discovery. Drug discovery projects using this technology are also in progress.