AstraZeneca bets cautiously on oncolytic virus discovery program, outlining $13M deal with Transgene
Mounting a preliminary effort to catch up with other pharma giants in the oncolytic virus space, AstraZeneca has found a partner in France’s Transgene.
In the deal, the biotech — which is already allied with Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer/Merck KGaA on combination programs with its in-house therapeutic vaccines — will come up with five new armed oncolytic vaccinia virus candidates. AstraZeneca is starting small with $10 million upfront and just $3 million in preclinical success milestones, but promises an undisclosed license fee for each clinical candidate they ultimately decide to co-develop.
The pharma giant $AZN will also be able to choose the transgenes to be encoded within the virus, a key addition that provides added firepower to the immune system against the tumor.
Long recognized as a tool to directly kill cancer cells, oncolytic viruses gained traction in recent years after research suggests that by bursting cancer cells and releasing antigens within, they can also trigger an immune response. That makes them a potent immunotherapies on its own as well as an ideal pairing agent for the next generation of I/O combos.
AstraZeneca first got its hands on an oncolytic virus in 2015 when it inked a licensing agreement with Omnis Pharmaceuticals (now Vyriad), but it told BioCentury that “there are currently no ongoing AZ-sponsored clinical trials of the candidate.”
Jean-Charles Soria, SVP of AstraZeneca’s newly named oncology unit, added they have “an exciting portfolio of molecules that we believe may augment oncolytic virus activity.”
Other big players such as Merck, J&J, Pfizer and Boehringer have each bagged or seeded their own oncolytic virus projects on the footsteps of Amgen’s T Vec, alongside biotech players like PsiOxus, underscoring the momentum of the next wave.
Meanwhile, Transgene will continue ploughing on its in-house pipeline and promises to send a few more drugs to the clinic in 2020.