If decades of research and tens of billions of dollars in investment have taught us one thing about cancer, it’s the science of detecting and cheating the disease. Drugs that ace this are among the highest grossers for their manufacturers.

“If you start with 1 billion cells, there are 1 billion routes to resist [the treatment], if you start with 100 cells, there are 100 routes to resist [the treatment]. So detecting early and cheating early has been successful,” says Siddhartha Mukherjee, assistant professor at Columbia University in the United States. As an oncologist and translational researcher, Mukherjee has seen that success, especially with the blockbuster breast cancer drug trastuzumab. Now, he wants to push the boundaries with the newest tech on the block—CAR-T cell therapy. Debatably placed between a pharmaceutical product and a procedure, it uses a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancer.

Ever since the first product Kymriah, from Swiss pharma major Novartis, meant for ALL—a type of blood cancer—hit the market in 2017, people have marvelled at the technology. Equally, they’ve baulked at the price—$475,000. Gilead’s Yescarta is slightly cheaper at $373,000.  

Both Novartis and Gilead have filed patents in India. But before they figure out differential pricing or even make up their mind about offering this extremely complex therapy in India, a fledgeling startup is counting CAR-T cells.

Less than a year old, Immuneel has a formidable founding team: Biocon founder and chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Boston-based 5AM Ventures founder and life-sciences professional Kush Parmar, and Mukherjee, who has founded four other cancer therapeutics companies. Six months ago, on a lark, the team raised $15 million in venture philanthropy from some healthcare czars and venture capitalists, including Khosla Ventures in California. 

For the longest while, believes Parmar, complex cancer therapies have focused on the developed world. The discrepancy, therefore, between what is available in the West and what is available in India is glaring. A cross-border company bringing US technologies to India to become viable and better was never the model. “We have the inverse; take phenomenal technologies from the US, where they face a very crowded market. And because these are life-threatening disorders, not rare diseases, the new tech becomes possible and viable in India,” Parmar says. At a fraction of the prevailing price—$50,000—Immuneel intends to shake things up, not just CAR-Ts. 

The West is debating whether to bring cell therapy from last-ditch to front line. Whether to continue leading with ineffective chemotherapy only to land at cell therapy later, or whether to swap the last-ditch and frontline, add combination therapies in between and change the universe of cancer care for good. After all, the first patient to have received CART-T at the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 remains cancer-free till date.

Developed countries, however, are restricted by their own complex regulatory and payer environment.

AUTHOR

Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

View Full Profile

Subscribe to read this story

The Ken is the only business subscription you need. Questions?

 

Premium

  • 5 original and reported longform business stories every week
  • Access to ONLY India edition
  • Close to 250 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories
  • Pick up to 5 premium subscriber newsletters
  • 4 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to ONLY Southeast Asia edition
  • Close to 200 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to all paywalled stories since March 2020
  • Pick up to 5 premium subscriber newsletters

Rs. 2,750 /year

$ 120 /year

India Edition
Subscribe Subscribe
Most Asked For

Borderless

  • 8 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to both India and Southeast Asia editions
  • Close to 400 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories across India and Southeast Asia
  • Unlimited access to all premium subscriber newsletters
  • Visual Stories

Rs. 4,200 /year

Subscribe
 

Echelon

  • 8 original and reported longform business stories each week
  • Access to both India and Southeast Asia editions
  • Close to 400 exclusive stories every year
  • Full access to over 5 years of paywalled stories across India and Southeast Asia
  • Unlimited access to all premium subscriber newsletters
  • Visual Stories
  • Bonus annual gift subscription
  • Priority access to all new products and features

Rs. 8,474 /year

Subscribe
Or

Questions?

What kind of subscription plans do you offer?

We have three types of subscriptions
- Premium which gives you access to either the India or the Southeast Asia edition.
- Borderless which gives you complete access to The Ken across both editions
- Echelon which gives you complete access to The Ken across both editions along with a bonus gift subscription

What do I get if I subscribe?

The Premium edition gives you access to stories in that edition along with any five subscriber-only newsletters of your choice.

The Borderless and Echelon subscription gives you complete access to The Ken across editions and unlimited access to as many newsletters as you like.

What topics do you usually write about?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics. We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

Our specialised subscriber-only newsletters are written by our expert, award-winning journalists and cover a range of topics across finance, retail, clean energy, cryptocurrency, ed-tech and many more.

How many newsletters do you have?

We are constantly adding specialised subscriber-only newsletters all the time. All of these are written by our team of award-winning journalists on a specialised topic.

You can see the list of newsletters that we publish over here.

Does a Premium subscription to your Indian edition get me access to the Southeast Asia edition? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

We recommend the Borderless or the Echelon Plan which will give you access to stories across both editions.

Do you have a mobile app?

Yes! We have a top-rated mobile app on both iOS and Android which allows you to read on-the-go and has some amazing features like the ability to bookmark stories, save on your device, dark mode, and much more. It’s really the best way to read The Ken.

Is there a free trial?

You can sign up for a free account to experience The Ken and understand our products better. We’ll send you some free stories and newsletters occasionally, and you can access our archive of previously published free stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

The vast majority of our stories, articles and newsletters can be accessed only by a paid subscription.

Do you offer any discounts?

Sorry, no. Our journalism is funded completely by our subscribers. We believe that quality journalism comes at a price, and readers trust and pay us so that we can remain independent.

Do you offer refunds?

No. We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Just write to us at support@the-ken.com with details. We’ll help you out.

I have a few more questions. How can I reach out to you?

Sure. Just email us at info@the-ken.com or follow us on Twitter.