AbbVie bags option on Turnstone oncolytic virus candidates

AbbVie can exercise its option on the Ad-MG1-MAGEA3 therapy after getting a look at data from phase 1/2 trials.

AbbVie has secured an option on three of Turnstone Biologics’ oncolytic viral immunotherapies. The deal gives AbbVie the chance to add Turnstone’s lead MAGEA3 candidate to its pipeline once data from two ongoing phase 1/2 trials are available.

Turnstone is testing Ad-MG1-MAGEA3 therapy as a monotherapy and in combination with Merck’s Keytruda in patients with solid tumors. Those open-label trials are currently in the phase 1 dose-escalation stage. Turnstone plans to move into phase 2 in the first half of next year, releasing data as it goes. Once the trials are over, AbbVie will decide whether to take up its option. Exercising the option would give AbbVie, a company not afraid of writing big checks for oncology assets, the global rights to a systemically delivered oncolytic virus-cum-cancer vaccine candidate. 

“The virus is able to find and kill cancer cells throughout the body,” Turnstone CEO Sammy Farah, Ph.D., said. “While it's doing this, it also has this exciting vaccine mechanism, where we are generating a very large and robust T-cell response against the MAGEA3 antigens. The MAGEA3 protein acts as a beacon on these cancer cells, and we've generated an army of T cells that will find this beacon.”

Neither company is saying how much AbbVie will pay to exercise its option on the Ad-MG1-MAGEA3 therapy nor disclosing other financial terms of the research, option and licensing agreement. But Turnstone thinks the numbers are a high-water mark for the oncolytic virus field. 

“This is the largest partnership [of this nature] in the oncolytic virus field that's ever been done,” Farah said.

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The oncolytic virus field has seen fewer big-ticket deals than other corners of the cancer space, but it is clear the agreement is financially meaningful for Turnstone. The significance of the deal from a financial perspective is part of the reason Turnstone—which raised $41.4 million in November to fund the phase 1/2 trials—has opted to tie itself to AbbVie rather than push through to the data readouts solo.

“It gives us great resources to do all the things we want this company to do. It gives us a great partner to take these first programs forward,” Farah said. “Then we also have our own pipeline ... and we anticipate having two of these therapies in the clinic by next year. It gives us resources to build out the company further.”

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Turnstone, a 2017 Fierce 15 company, will work on these internal programs in parallel with the two other assets covered by the AbbVie deal. These assets are still at the research stage. Once they get to the IND stage, AbbVie will decide whether to exercise its option.