JINAN — A generic targeted drug to treat cancer manufactured by a Chinese pharmaceutical company hit market over the weekend.
The new gefitinib cancer-treating drug, whose Chinese commercial name is Yiruike, was produced by Qilu Pharmaceutical (Qilu). Its release ends an almost decade-long monopoly by Iressa, developed by British multinational biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and introduced to China in 2005.
A generic drug is a pharmaceutical drug that is equivalent in dosage, strength, quality, and intended use to a brand-name product manufactured by its original developer. Generic drugs often become available after the patent protection on the original drug expires.
Yiruike was approved for marketing by China’s State Food and Drug Administration after Iressa’s patent protection expired in April 2016, Qilu sources said.
A panel of Chinese pharmacists, headed by professor Yang Guoping with Central South University, have endorsed Yiruike.
The drug is a much-needed first line medicine used in targeted therapies against non-small-cell lung cancer, which accounts for about 80 percent of lung cancer cases in China.
Gefitinib specifically works against the epidermal growth factor receptor EGFR, whose function is to put the brakes on cell growth. In non-small-cell lung cancer, the mutation of EGFR leads to a proliferation of cells, forming fatal tumors.
Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer in China.
About 591,000 people die from lung cancer in China every year, according to the national cancer center. There are about 733,000 new cases every year.
Targeted therapy has emerged over the past decade as a promising treatment for advanced lung cancer patients, those who do not respond well to chemotherapy. The price of targeted therapy drugs are exorbitant for most working class families.
The gefitinib targeted therapy proved so popular that in 2014 a Chinese charity began helping lung cancer patients who could not afford to buy the drug. The cost for a week’s dosage exceeds 10,000 yuan ($1,470).
Qilu’s general manager Li Yan said Yiruike, at less than 2,000 yuan a pack, is a fraction of the price of the previously available drug, meaning more people in need can be helped.