Boehringer's VC wing backs anti-cancer virus startup

Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund Director Marcus Kostka has taken up the CEO post. (CC0 Public Domain)

Abalos Therapeutics has raised €12 million ($13 million) to discover and develop cancer drugs based on an arenavirus strain. The series A round sets Abalos up to generate anti-tumoral virus strains and take them toward testing in humans. 

Germany-based Abalos is built on the work of Karl Lang and Philipp Lang, who identified viruses that preferentially infect cancer cells. The discovery led to work to develop viruses that infect cancer cells and induce cytokine response, triggering an immune response against the tumor. Unlike oncolytic viruses, these strains would not try to kill the cells directly.

Now, the work has advanced to the point that Abalos can see the clinic on the horizon. That has enabled Abalos to put a leadership team in place and reel in €12 million in a round led by Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (BIVF) and Gruenderfonds Ruhr.

BIVF Director Marcus Kostka has taken up the CEO post. Kostka is joined in the Abalos C-suite by Jörg Vollmer, a person he knows from his time on the board of Rigontec. Vollmer was CSO of Rigontec, a cancer immunotherapy startup, prior to its acquisition by Merck in 2017. Vollmer now occupies the chief scientific officer position at Abalos.

At Abalos, Vollmer will get the chance to work with another twist on the idea of using the immune system to treat cancer. Abalos thinks its approach can result in long-term disease control that hits both the primary tumor and metastases. 

The more commonly pursued idea of using viruses to kill cancer cells directly and trigger an immune response in the process has attracted the attention of a who’s who of drug developers. The appeal of the concept rests in part on the potential for oncolytic viruses to turn “cold” tumors “hot,” thereby rendering them vulnerable to the immune attacks launched by checkpoint inhibitors.