Oncolytics player Replimune bags $55M to hit clinical POC

Replimune has raised $55 million to generate clinical proof-of-concept data on its lead oncolytic immunotherapy. The series B round equips the team that led BioVex to a $1 billion buyout by Amgen and took Imlygic up to phase 3 to take another crack at developing a cancer-fighting virus.

Foresite Capital led the round with support from fellow new investors Bain Capital Life Sciences, Redmile Group, Cormorant Asset Management and Leerink Partners. Replimune also returned to Atlas Venture, Forbion Capital Partners and Omega Funds, the VC shops that participated in its $30 million series A in 2015.

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Transatlantic biotech Replimune and the broader oncolytic virus market have moved forward since then. The series A just predated the approval of Imlygic, the pioneering oncolytic virus Replimune’s CEO, executive chairman, COO, CBO and a clutch of SVPs and VPs worked on while at BioVex.

Replimune CEO Robert Coffin, Ph.D., who served as CSO of BioVex, and his long-term collaborators have spent the past two years combining their oncolytic virus expertise with new knowledge of the underlying science and broader immuno-oncology advances to create three pipeline prospects. Those broader advances mean the oncology sector is more competitive—but also significantly more receptive to the idea of oncolytic viruses—than it was when BioVex began work on the drug that became Imlygic in the late 1990.  

Replimune plans to piggyback on this evolution by positioning its oncolytic viruses as enablers of checkpoint inhibitors. The process of generating data to support this effort starts with trials of RP1, a high-potency backbone virus designed to activate innate and adaptive immune responses. RP1 delivers immune-activating proteins to tumors to target the immune response at the cancer.

In animal models, RP1 reduced the size of most tumors Replimune tested it against. The plan now is to see whether the findings translate into humans by testing RP1 in combination with an anti-PD-1 drug in multiple tumor types.       

The phase 2 trial is the centerpiece of Replimune’s plans for the series B. But the biotech also has one eye on life beyond the delivery of proof-of-concept data. Replimune will use some of the cash to set up in-house manufacturing capabilities to support late-phase development and commercial sales. 

Another tranche will go toward development of follow-up candidates. The two most advanced assets in this chasing pack both act on CTLA-4.