2022-05-25| LicensingR&D

These Companies Are Harnessing Oncolytic Viruses to Target Cancer

by Reed Slater
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Oncology development is rapidly evolving as Imugene, a clinical-stage immuno-oncology company, alongside City of Hope, one of America’s largest cancer research organizations, announced their first patient dosed in a Phase 1 trial using oncolytic viruses to target cancer. In the same vein, KaliVir Immunotherapies entered a global license agreement with pharma giant Roche to discover, develop, and commercialize KaliVir’s oncolytic virus treatment. 


What Are Oncolytic Viruses?


An oncolytic virus is a naturally occurring or genetically engineered virus that can replicate in cancer cells and attack cancer cells while remaining healthy cells intact. Often used alongside other immunotherapies, Imugene says that early research shows oncolytic viruses can prime a person’s immune system and increase the level of PD-L1 in tumors, making immunotherapy more effective. PD-L1 is a protein that prevents immune cells from attacking non-harmful cells.

Imugene will use its genetically modified oncolytic virus candidate, CF33-hNIS VAXINIA, with pembrolizumab, a common humanized antibody immunotherapy, in its Phase 1 trial targeting metastatic or advanced solid tumors. The trial is set to run for 24 months and will include 100 eligible participants. 

A key developer of CF33 and Sangiacomo Family Chair in Surgical Oncology at City of Hope, Yuman Fong M.D., said, “Interestingly, the same characteristics that eventually make cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy or radiation treatment actually enhance the success of oncolytic viruses, such as CF33-hNIS.”


Related Article: AbbVie & Cugene Join Forces to Tackle Autoimmune Diseases


Competition in Oncolytic Virus Development


KaliVir’s Vaccinia Enhanced Template (VET) platform is in development to challenge Imugene’s VAXINIA, but not VET has the added benefit of having Roche in its corner to expedite development. In the press release, KaliVir stated that it would receive an undisclosed upfront payment, milestone payments, and royalties upon commercialization in exchange for Roche acquiring an exclusive license to discovery, development, and commercialization worldwide. 

The VET platform is still in its early stages, but like VAXINIA, it is a genetically modified oncolytic virus designed to enhance anti-tumoral immunity. KaliVir says that its novel technology enhances the spread between tumors and tumor-targeted replication. Though not yet in clinical trials, KaliVir says that VET is well-positioned to move forward in clinical development quickly.

Companies around the globe are searching for more effective ways to treat cancer, and each day is a step forward at the rate technology is advancing. Imugene’s work with City of Hope and KaliVir’s partnership with Roche are two steps forward in oncology development in the exciting niche of oncolytic viruses.

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