~ Third major acquisition of an oncolytic virus company by Big Pharma this year ~
Viruses have been the subject of intense study for over one hundred years as a potential agent for the destruction of cancerous tumors. According to a 2007 paper by Elizabeth J. Kelly, PhD, and Stephen J. Russell, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic, “early case reports emphasized regression of cancers during naturally acquired virus infections, providing the basis for clinical trials where body fluids containing human or animal viruses were used to transmit infections to cancer patients. Most often the viruses were arrested by the host immune system and failed to impact tumor growth, but sometimes, in immunosuppressed patients, infection persisted and tumors regressed, although morbidity as a result of the infection of normal tissues was unacceptable.”
The current state of development of these cancer-fighting virus—known as oncolytic viruses—has advanced tremendously over the last century. There is only one oncolytic virus on the market—Amgen’s
Boehringer Ingelheim, the family-owned German pharmaceutical giant, has acquired ViraTherapeutics for €210 million (US$245 million) from EMBL Ventures, following a collaboration and option agreement signed in 2016. ViraTherapeutics, based in Innsbruck, Austria, has been developing oncolytic virus-based immunotherapies, with its lead product, VSV-GP, currently in advanced pre-clinical development for the treatment of solid tumors. EMBL Ventures first invested in the Company in 2015 as part of its Series A financing round.
Oncolytic viruses function not only by directly breaking down cancer cells, but also by stimulating the anti-cancer immune response as a consequence of cell lysis and the release of tumor specific antigens.
Increasing demand for oncolytic virus companies
This is the third major acquisition by Big Pharma of an oncolytic virus company this year. In February, Merck
There are at least a dozen other companies that are pursuing the potential therapeutic utility of oncolytic viruses. Beyond the familiar large caps such as Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb
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