Antibody drug conjugates (ADCs) have emerged as a promising class of targeted cancer therapies in recent years. ADCs, composed of monoclonal antibodies linked to a cytotoxic drug, are designed to selectively target cancer cells and limit systemic exposure in cancer patients. Currently there are approximately 12 ADCs available globally for the treatment of both solid and hematological tumors, with three drugs having already reached blockbuster status. ADCs are highly specific and have the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment by reducing the side effects typically associated with chemotherapy.

In recent years pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer Inc., Genentech, and Gilead Sciences, have invested significantly in the development of ADCs, resulting in a highly competitive marketplace. The most common targets for ADCs include CD22, HER2, EGFR, Trop-2, BCMA, and Nectin-4, with indications mainly including breast, lung, gastric, and blood cancers. And, in addition to promising cancer treatment outcomes, ADCs also show potential in treating antibiotic-resistant infections and autoimmune diseases. 

The Asia Pacific has emerged as a growing region for ADC trials with over 900 industry-initiated, ongoing trials globally between 2018 and 2022. Asia Pacific occupies over a third of these trials, with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 35. From 2018 to 2022, Asia Pacific has maintained and grown its share of ADC trials to 36%, with China leading the single-country ADC trials.

China has seen a drastic increase in clinical trials for novel anticancer drugs and currently leads the way in single-country ADC trials with 48 phase I and 72 phase II trials. To date, several of these trials have received approval from the National Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA), including EGFR-TKIs, ALK-TKIs, and PD-1/PD-L1 mAbs. The Chinese government has implemented several initiatives to promote innovation including faster clinical trial authorization procedures, expedited review systems for drugs and medical devices, and greater intellectual property protection.

China continues to grow its strength in ADC innovation primarily through the development of local talent, supported by favorable regulatory frameworks, local biotech innovation, and the growing presence of multinational corporations in the country during the past decade. Furthermore, the Chinese government continues to place a high priority of spending and resources on healthcare, and its leading biopharma companies have followed suit, increasing spend on R&D up 14% from 2016 to 2021.

Like many players in the market, Chinese companies have begun to explore fresh therapeutic targets and invest in cutting-edge tech platforms like AI-powered antibody technology. Multinational pharmaceutical firms are becoming more interested in gaining access to Chinese biotech assets through direct investments or by creating partnerships and incubators in China.

ADCs will continue to rapidly grow as a cancer treatment, with the global market value projected to reach a value of US$22 billion by 2030. This projected growth can be attributed to factors such as increasing cancer incidence, aging populations, and growing R&D activities for novel therapies globally and in Asia Pacific in particular. The benefits of offering improved efficacy and lower toxicity compared to chemotherapy by leveraging the accuracy of monoclonal antibodies targeting specific antigens, means it will continually be an attractive choice for patients and medical professionals. ADC deals have also intensified of late, with the average up-front deal value for ADCs exceeding US$850 million, making them the most highly valued drug therapy class.

The ADC market has garnered interest from leading pharma and biotech companies such as Merck, Amgen, and Seagen, with more than ten ADCs in their clinical development pipeline, and deals frequently struck for drugs in the early phase of development. There are over 100 unique ADCs in industry-sponsored clinical trials, which are expected to lead to continued interest and subsequent transactions in the future. As the clinical pipeline matures, the next wave of innovative biotech companies has already raised venture capital funds to enhance the therapeutic window of ADCs. VC funding for ADC technologies has steadily increased since 2018, with approximately US$1.8 billion invested by the end of 2022. Despite the complex manufacturing process, the healthy landscape of early-stage biotech companies coupled with increased pharma interest in ADCs holds great promise for realizing the true potential of this targeted therapy. The recent boom of ADC approvals is redefining the therapy paradigm for many cancer patients, meaning the future of this innovative treatment modality remains bright.