2023 was the year when the world finally emerged from the grips of COVID-19. The biopharma industry looked beyond the pandemic. Artificial Intelligence (AI) based drug discovery was a hot topic, with the industry’s billions on AI finally paid off. Insilico Medicine, based in China, achieved a significant milestone with its lead drug for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) – INS018-055. This is the first drug designed for an AI-discovered target and created by generative AI to advance to phase 2 clinical trials with patients. The other important topic that garnered attention was – ageing. The reality of the ageing population is finally catching up in the region and the countries are scrambling to deal with it. China continues its winning streak to be recognised as a biopharma innovative powerhouse, while Singapore emerged as a manufacturing powerhouse for the industry. The region also held onto its rank as a preferred destination for clinical trials. Some of the trends observed were predictable with a few surprises thrown in. Let’s take a deep dive into the year gone by.
AI in drug discovery
AI has become a cornerstone technology in the drug discovery process, with virtually all companies, regardless of size, incorporating it into their drug discovery life cycles. According to a CPHI report, AI is expected to revolutionise all aspects of drug development by 2026, and by 2030, over 50 per cent of FDA approvals are anticipated to involve drugs discovered and developed through AI.
Insilico Medicine, a China-based company, achieved a noteworthy breakthrough with its lead drug for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) – INS018-055. This marks a pivotal moment as it is the first drug designed for a target discovered by AI and created through generative AI to progress to phase 2 clinical trials involving patients.
All eyes are on China
China continued its impressive streak as a biopharmaceutical innovator, solidifying its leadership position in the field. The country has become a sought-after destination for groundbreaking therapies, attracting major deals with prominent global pharmaceutical and biotech firms.
Mental health continues to be an important sector in the region. Asia is home to several innovative digital mental health companies and the governments are also taking various initiatives to improve well-being.
Australia, in particular, is strategically enhancing its mental healthcare landscape. The Australian government has crafted a comprehensive 10-year National Mental Health Workforce Strategy. This strategic roadmap aims to ensure that Australians have timely and accessible mental healthcare by guiding coordinated efforts over the next decade. Additionally, the government is allocating $8 million for 10 projects under the fifth grant opportunity for the Medical Research Future Fund’s Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission.
1 in 7 individuals in Asia Pacific were aged 60 or older. This demographic trend is accelerating, with projections suggesting that by 2050, 1 in 4 people in the region will fall into this age group, according to the United Nations, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), 2022. To address the growing concern of an ageing population, the APAC region is actively taking steps to tackle longevity-related issues. In August 2023, Singapore marked a significant milestone by inaugurating the world’s very first Healthy Longevity Medicine Clinic. This achievement is part of a broader wave of developments in the region that focuses on the science of ageing and longevity. This is also expected to increase further in the coming year.
Singapore emerged as a hotbed for biopharma manufacturing. Last year almost all the big pharma firms announced plans to advance biologics manufacturing in the region. This year too there has been a spate of developments in this sector.
Further contributing to Singapore’s prominence in biopharma manufacturing, several companies have inaugurated new facilities and expanded capabilities. SCG has opened a new cell therapy manufacturing facility and research and development (R&D) centre, while West Pharmaceutical Services has inaugurated an advanced manufacturing facility.
Genomic testing and precision medicines
In a rapidly evolving landscape of healthcare, precision medicine took centre stage.
Non-communicable diseases are rising in the region, which can be addressed by precision medicine, leveraging genomics.
“We saw the proliferation of genomic technologies across the Asia Pacific, attracting investors’ investments. Based on engineered or bacterial nucleases, the development of genome technologies has opened up the possibility of directly targeting and modifying genomic sequences. The impact of the application of genomics extends beyond increasing healthcare standards for the citizens. Indonesia stands to benefit from further economic benefits totalling US$100+ billion, as indicated in our white paper on genomics, titled “Genomics: Leapfrogging into the Indonesian healthcare future”. The benefits are the combination of incremental productivity and healthcare savings incurred through genomics,” said Wesley Tay, Principal at East Ventures, Indonesia.
New Diagnostic Tech
Given the focus on health policies and industrial demands, the heightened interest and active investments in new diagnostic technologies are expected to persist.
The original article was published on BioSpectrum Asia, 2 December 2023.