TOKYO -- Japan's pharmaceutical industry has been quick off the blocks in the new field of nucleic acid medicine, not wanting to repeat their slow showing in the market for antibody drugs.
Nucleic acid medicines are a new class of biopharmaceuticals that are synthesized from the same building blocks that comprise DNA and RNA. They work through direct action on gene expression to attack a disease's genetic basis.
Although the U.S. drug giant Pfizer and other leading pharmaceutical companies are out in front in development of nucleic acid medicines, few products have yet made it to market. So there is time for Japan's drug companies to catch up and make their mark in a promising field seen growing into a market worth billions of dollars in just several years.
Daiichi Sankyo will soon enter clinical trials with a nucleic acid medicine for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
This muscle-wasting disease has no cure, but the compound Daiichi Sankyo is working on promises to slow the advance of the symptoms. The drugmaker hopes to commercialize the drug through a joint venture it established in 2013 with the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan and others. If all goes according to plan, Daiichi Sankyo expects to win approval to market the drug in 2020 or even sooner.
Nippon Shinyaku is even further along with a different nucleic acid medicine for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The company is already conducting initial safety trials and expects to soon move on to the second round, hoping to commercialize a medicine in 2018.
Japanese bioventures are helping to energize this field.
Technologies from Tokyo-based startup Ribomic are being used by Taisho Pharmaceutical to develop nucleic acid medicines for mental disorders and allergies.
AnGes MG, which trades on the Mothers market for startup companies, is getting ready to begin the third and final phase of clinical trials with a nucleic acid medicine to treat the long-term chronic skin disorder atopic dermatitis.
And Fukuoka Prefecture-based Bonac hopes to have a compound ready by 2020 to treat pulmonary fibrosis, a disease in which scars form in lung tissues.
Even companies in other sectors are becoming involved. Nitto Denko, a leading maker of electronic components that is busy enhancing its drug business, is conducting clinical studies in the U.S. on a nucleic acid medicine to treat cirrhosis of the liver.