As India is base for a large number of cancer patients and drug development, clinical trials are a crucial part of medical treatment, said Dr Vikram Kekatpure, senior consultant, head & neck surgical oncology, Cytecare Hospitals.
Clinical research is a vital part of the drug discovery process to ensure the safety and usefulness of any new drug. In today’s global scientific era, clinical trials are a pillar for introducing newer and better drugs, he added.
Ongoing trials in India are focusing on immunological drugs. It costs anywhere between $100 – $800 million and takes 7-10 years to introduce a new molecule to the market. According to industry estimates, conducting phase I and II trials in India are comparatively cheaper than in other countries, hence encouraging companies to steer their clinical trials here, Dr Kekatpure told Pharmabiz in an email interaction.
Treatments for head and neck cancer, when diagnosed in the early stages, are quite successful and have higher chances of cure. If the disease is diagnosed at advanced stages the cure rates are comparatively lower.
Head and neck cancer is one of the most common diseases affecting mouth, throat, larynx, nose, paranasal sinuses, or salivary glands among the Indian population. Its rise is a major concern. About 80 per cent is caused due to tobacco use, both chewing and smoking. Alcohol consumption along with tobacco has an additive effect too. While this type of cancer consists of 3 per cent of all cancers in the developed countries compared to 30 per cent in Indian population. It affects both genders and is common in age group of 40-60 years specially in the rural areas, he said.
Although a number of new drugs are being introduced, the main treatment is surgery and radiation. Targeted and chemotherapeutic agents are recommended to improve the outcome and showing promising results. The approved drugs include Platinum chemotherapy and targeted agents like the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) drugs.
Monoclonal antibody therapy is a form targeted therapy that bind to specific receptors on cancer cells. This in turn blocks the cancer stimulating pathways at the cell level. A group of patients show excellent response to targeting EGFR drugs and PD-1. Future research needs to focus on predictive biomarkers to identify patients who are likely to benefit from such therapy, said Dr Kekatpure.
The country has a number of medical facilities with specialized doctors with an expertise on varied cancers. But patients in the rural areas suffer due to lack of access to advanced care. Those in urban India have better chances of recovery with efficient oncology care. Although head and neck cancer remains a major therapeutic challenge, advances in surgery and radiation, have significantly improved treatment outcome. The focus of treatment is not only the survival but also the functional, cosmetic outcomes and improvement in quality of life.
International patients look for expertise of doctors, infrastructure with access to advanced technologies when they come to India for cancer treatment. Cytecare Hospital is patient friendly with the state-of-the-art infrastructure and organ specific specialists accessible at a cost difference of 5 to 10 times than international markets, said Dr Kekatpure.