Boehringer nabs up to €210M oncolytic virus option deal with Austrian startup

Boehringer Ingelheim

Boehringer Ingelheim is making a bid in oncolytic viruses in a deal with preclinical ViraTherapeutics that’s worth up to €210 million ($236 million). As part of the deal, the pharma gains the right to buy the biotech after Phase I development is finished.

The partners will work together to develop a next-gen oncolytic virus therapy platform--as well as to advance ViraTherapeutic’s lead candidate VSV-GP (Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV) glycoprotein (GP)) alone and in combination with other treatements.

Boehringer is already an investor in ViraTherapeutics via its venture fund. EMBL Ventures is also an investor in the biotech, which remains responsible for the preclinical and clinical testing of VSV-GP through Phase I.

“VSV-GP has demonstrated the ability to prime and boost an anti-cancer immune response and does not appear to prompt effective antiviral immune responses,” said scientific founder and CEO Dr. Dorothee von Laer in a statement. “These properties are expected to allow ground-breaking applications of this novel treatment approach.”

The biotech plans to continue exploring the candidate’s potential to be armed with therapeutic genes, as well as antigens, for use as a prophylactic or therapeutic vaccine vector.

VSV-GP is expected to be effective against a broad range of cancers. It has a shorter replication time than other oncolytic viruses in development, according to the company. VSV-GP also doesn’t integrate into the DNA and has been modified to avoid neural inflammation associated with wild-type viruses. In the candidate, the Vesicular Stomatitis Virus has been replaced by the glycoprotein of the Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV) to hide the virus from the immune system.

“Oncolytic viruses are among the most promising new therapy approaches in cancer research and the technology developed by ViraTherapeutics may offer significant advantages compared to others currently under development,” said Boehringer Ingelheim board member Dr. Michel Pairet.

He concluded: “The new collaboration is an example of Boehringer Ingelheim’s increasing focus on partnering and further complements the company’s growing immune-oncology pipeline that includes among others, a therapeutic cancer vaccine and next generation checkpoint inhibitors.”