ElevateBio launched just last week with $150 million to build cell and gene therapy companies. Now, it’s unveiling its first portfolio company: AlloVir, a biotech working on off-the-shelf T-cell therapies against several common viruses, including flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and a type of herpes virus.
AlloVir, formerly called ViraCyte, is working on treatments that restore T-cell immunity in patients with weakened immune systems, including those who have undergone stem cell or solid organ transplants. Its pipeline, based on technology from the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, comprises two allogeneic T-cell therapies that target multiple viruses. Rather than extracting a patient’s own T cells and modifying them to better attack a target, an allogeneic approach uses donor T cells, which can be banked and used “off the shelf.”
Its lead program, known as Viralym-M or ALVR105, is being developed against six viruses in immunocompromised people: BK virus, cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, human herpesvirus 6 and JC virus. AlloVir uses cytokines and parts of the viruses that don’t cause infection to expand virus-specific T cells from a donor. In healthy people, this type of T cell protects the body against many disease-causing viruses. The idea is to deliver these cells to immunocompromised patients, restore their T-cell immunity and fight the virus.
A phase 2 study published in 2017 tested Viralym-M in patients infected with one or more viruses showing that it worked in 92% of patients. It resolved major symptoms in most patients, cutting their virus level down until it could not be detected in the blood. AlloVir’s second program targets four community-acquired respiratory viruses: RSV, flu, parainfluenza virus and human metapneumovirus.
AlloVir is the first portfolio company to be revealed by ElevateBio, a holding company founded to foster a group of young biotechs by easing a bottleneck in the gene and cell therapy space—manufacturing. ElevateBio is providing a centralized R&D manufacturing team and facility for its portfolio companies, which it will create in partnership with academic researchers, medical centers and entrepreneurs.
In addition to joining ElevateBio, AlloVir raised $120 million in series B financing from a slate of investors including Redmile Group, EcoR1 Capital and Samsara BioCapital, all of which backed ElevateBio’s series A. Fidelity Management and Research Company, Gilead Sciences, F2 Ventures, Invus and Leerink Partners Co-investment Fund also pitched in. Because AlloVir will be using ElevateBio’s R&D and manufacturing site, dubbed BaseCamp, it will not need to invest in its own manufacturing team. The proceeds will bankroll the development of AlloVir’s two programs.
“We have successfully completed our phase 2 proof-of-concept study with Viralym-M, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Based on these results, we will initiate pivotal phase 3 studies across a range of viral-associated diseases within the next 12 months,” said David Hallal, the CEO and co-founder of ElevateBio who will also serve as AlloVir’s CEO, via email. It will also push ALVR106 into a proof-of-concept study and support “further company building activities.”
Though ElevateBio’s companies will share R&D and manufacturing staff, their leadership teams will be a different matter. It will depend on each company, Hallal said in a previous interview.
“Obviously, some early-stage companies won’t need their own C-level teams for a bit of time,” he said. As the companies mature and move toward commercialization, they may start recruiting these leaders to get products out, or to take the companies public. And though ElevateBio will start with a “substantial holding” in its portfolio companies, its investors—as well as new backers—can chip in along the way.
For now, Hallal will lead both ElevateBio and AlloVir.
“I am confident I can lead Elevate and AlloVir as I leverage my experience building and operating a $30+B company operating with multiple commercial businesses in more than 50 countries around the world and a diverse R&D pipeline... the strength of the ElevateBio model allows us to allocate our expert staff in part or in full to our portfolio companies, so we planned for this model well in advance to ensure we're properly resourced across all functions and all portfolio companies,” Hallal said in the email.