Bristol-Myers Squibb $BMY is taking its relationship with PsiOxus to the proverbial next level. The big biotech is grabbing rights to the Oxford-based company’s next-gen oncolytic virus therapy, which employs a trio of tumor cell-killing approaches to rein in cancer.
Already allied on a combination of Opdivo with PsiOxus’ leading oncolytic virus, enadenotucirev, Bristol-Myers has come back for NG-348, an “armed” oncolytic virus that adds immuno-therapeutic transgenes to the cancer cell destroying mix. Bristol-Myers is offering $50 million upfront, along with new research support and up to $886 million in milestones if all the cards turn in its favor.
“They’re doubling down on the technology,” says PsiOxus CEO John Beadle, who spoke with me last summer for a profile of the company. “This one they’re really going to take on and develop.”
“This is what we call tumor-specific immunogene therapy, actually changing the phenotype of the tumor cell,” he adds. “Once infected, two genes are delivered: an Anti-CD3 and CD80, both proteins expressed on the tumor cells. They act as antigen presenting cells, to activate T cells.” And this applies to any T cell, “regardless of what it was programmed to kill.”
This approach — which is now headed into the clinic for the first time — builds on the basic oncolytic virus approach, in which a virus is infused to infect a cancer cell, triggering rapid replication of the virus that in turn destroys the target cell. In this particular case, PsiOxus boasts about the extensive work it did to select a chimeric adenovirus that was naturally more likely to gather in tumors and infect cancer cells, while unable to infect most normal cells. The virus spreads from cancer cell to cancer cell. As the cancer cells explode, the released antigens help drive an immune response in a mop-up operation.
Amgen has helped pioneer the field with its approval of Imlygic (T-Vec), but PsiOxus and a growing lineup of upstarts on both sides of the Atlantic are following systemic infusions for next-gen programs that promise to do significantly better.
“This is our first major deal,” Beadle adds. “It brings a significant amount of upfront cash and it actually feeds into our ability to grow the organization, but also takes forward a broader range of followup programs.”
PsiOxus is now slated to grow to more than 50 staffers next year, says Beadle, who’s taking aim at a broader pipeline. And it also allows for growth in their small Philadelphia office, where Beadle will be adding clinical and regulatory ability.
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