Rahul Purwar, whose journey in science started as a BTech student in Lucknow, completed his specialised degrees in biosciences and bioengineering at Hannover Medical School in Germany and Harvard Medical School in the US. After working briefly as a scientist with biotechnology giant ImmunoGen in the US, he joined the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. Immunotherapy against cancer has remained his primary interest and it was this keen interest that pushed him to do intensive research on developing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T) cell therapy indigenously for patients of blood cancer and lymphoma in India. The technology he developed is now patented and he, through his company ImmunoACT, is now looking to launch the therapy in the country by the end of 2023. On June 11, the company inaugurated a manufacturing facility that can produce therapies to treat about 1,200 every year. In this chat with Moneycontrol, he talks about his journey so far and the future plans. Here are the edited excerpts:
What do you think will be the significance of the launch of the ImmunoACT facility as the lab work was already happening at IIT, Bombay? How is the new facility going to help?
The facility was launched to ensure accessibility and affordability of gene therapy, and cell and gene therapy in India. This gene therapy or cell therapy is very expensive. At the same time, it’s a very effective treatment for cancer. However, it is not available in our country, not only just unavailable, it’s not available at any price. So we want to bring this technology to India. And at the same time, we want to ensure that it is accessible to all the patients who might benefit from this. So this facility is, I think, the first milestone in bringing this state-of-the-art technology to our country.
CAR-T cell therapy costs about Rs 3-4 crore per patient in the US. How do you plan to be able to offer it at less than 10 percent of that in India?
It’s a multifactorial thing. One of the factors is that all the R&D is done in our country. So in the last eight years, I have been doing research on this. Doing R&D internally is very cost-effective, as we have patents and we don’t need to license things. Second, our manufacturing platform is also indigenous. So the process we use is also indigenous and thus from product design till the process development, it is all ours. For patients, it means that we can offer the therapy at a far more reasonable rate.