Boehringer Ingelheim-backed Abalos tosses hat into packed oncolytic virus ring
Arenaviruses. They’re small, they’re packed with tiny stolen ribosomes that resemble grains of sand, they’re responsible for 300,000 to 500,000 human infections in West Africa each year, and, if a new German biotech has their way, they are going to one day treat tumors.
Abalos Therapeutics launched today with $12 million in funding to develop arenaviruses it hopes can be used in immunotherapy for cancer. The funding was co-led by Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (BIVF) and Gruenderfonds Ruhr, with participation from NRW.BANK and High-Tech Gruenderfonds (HTGF).
Abalos Therapeutics CSO Jörg Vollmer told Endpoints News the platform stood out for its nimbleness compared to other oncolytic virus approaches.
“We use the natural adaption possibility and properties of the virus adapted to the tumor cell,” Vollmer said. “So we are not restricted, really.”
Abalos is entering an increasingly crowded field of small biotechs and pharma giants trying to leverage viruses and the body’s natural defense system against them to treat cancer. Over the last 3 years, AstraZeneca, Merck, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb and J&J have inked deals of various sizes with oncolytic virus biotechs, with J&J putting up the largest figure at $1.04 billion.
Whereas immunotherapies such as CAR-T re-engineer immune cells to see and target tumors, like outfitting a fighter jet with infrared or a sub with radar, oncolytic viruses work by lighting up the tumor cells targets. A virus that is designed to propagate primarily through cancer cells is injected into a patient. The body then carries out its natural immune response to the virus, which happens to be in cancer cells.
Unlike other oncolytic viruses — such as the herpes-virus-based T-Vec from Amgen, the first such therapy approved in the US — arenaviruses don’t themselves kill cells. Like in the Junin and Lassa infections that arenaviruses can cause in humans, the damage comes from the body’s immune response. In a potential immunotherapy, that response would be directed to cancer cells.
Kostka told Endpoints News their platform was not antigen-specific and thus could be used to target a wide range of cancers.
Like much of virotherapy research, their work is preclinical. They said they are aiming for an IND in three years.