Fledgling biotech upstart blends cutting-edge cancer immunotherapy strategies

NYU's Ian Mohr

While investors have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a virtual Manhattan Project on new immuno-oncology drugs, a startup that sprang out of a lab at New York University's Langone Medical Center has taken the first steps in what it sees as a unique follow-up to the first wave of therapies.

The biotech is BeneVir Biopharm, based in Rockville, MD. According to an SEC filing from Monday, the biotech has raised the first $2 million of a planned $12 million Series A--lunch money in the IO world. And it's using its seed cash to work on oncolytic viruses similar to Amgen's ($AMGN) T-Vec that can kill cancer cells. But there's a twist. The treatments are also supposed to "remodel" the antigens on antigen-presenting cells so that the immune system can target and eliminate both immune-susceptible cells as well as immune-evading cells. That triple shot at cancer, the biotech explains in a recent release, is designed to achieve a durable response--the key goal for new drugs that designed to both knock back cancer and then hold it back, preventing a relapse.

The bright idea behind the fledgling was provided by Ian Mohr, a researcher at NYU's Langone Medical Center. NYU outlicensed the technology to BeneVir, which is run by Matthew Mulvey, who earlier completed a stint as a project director in diagnostics R&D at the antibiotics company Sequella. Mohr is running the scientific advisory committee with an NYU colleague, Alan Frey.

Mohr's already done some work in the field, according to the release. He "discovered and patented SUP1, an attenuated, replication competent Herpes Simplex Virus" that was licensed to BioVex when it was assembling its IP for T-Vec, which subsequently was bought out by Amgen and is now in front of the FDA with positive but mixed data.

Their seed money came from a nontraditional source. They're funded by Pansend, a subsidiary of HC2 Holdings, which has taken a stake in a variety of things like steel fabrication.

"BeneVir intends to rapidly advance its lead candidate to the clinic. We look forward to working closely with Dr. David Present and Cherine Eldumiati Plumaker of Pansend as we move our programs forward and address the unmet medical needs of patients living with difficult-to-treat cancers," said BeneVir CEO Matt Mulvey.

- here's the release

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