Oncorus drops HSV solid tumor prospect, lays off 15% of workforce

Less than a month ago, Oncorus was gearing up to report on a phase 1 trial of its herpes simplex virus (HSV) drug in combination with Keytruda in solid tumors. Now, the biotech has dropped the asset, sparking layoffs and leaving the future of other candidates hanging in the balance.

The canned therapy in question, dubbed ONCR-177, contains five encoded transgenes and is designed to be directly administered into a tumor. The company had been expected to publish the phase 1 data on advanced and/or refractory cutaneous, subcutaneous or metastatic nodal solid tumors or with liver metastases of solid tumors.

Presumably, a peek at the data was enough to cause the biotech to throw in the towel. While the trial results will now be published sometime next year, the company is ceasing development of the candidate.

As a result, the company’s workforce will be cut by 20%, with the remaining employees solely focused on developing a self-amplifying RNA product candidate dubbed ONCR-021. The company said it remains on track to submit in mid-2023 to enter clinical trials for non-small cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma, melanoma and hepatocellular carcinoma.

“Oncorus’ mission is now focused on realizing the full promise of IV-administered, self-amplifying RNA medicines to transform outcomes for cancer patients through our lead program, ONCR-021, which we plan to evaluate in patients with non-small cell lung and other cancers,” said CEO Theodore Ashburn, M.D., Ph.D., in a Nov. 30 release.

The future is also uncertain for Oncorus’ other two programs: another self-amplifying RNA candidate called ONCR-788, which encodes for a modified genome of the Seneca Valley Virus, in development for various cancers; and ONCR-719, an HSV-1 for the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme. Both will be dependent on additional financing in order to be taken forward, the company said.

As of the end of September, Oncorus had $81.5 million in cash and cash equivalents. The company said today that the re-prioritization and layoffs mean it still expects its current bank balance to keep it afloat into early 2024.