DNAtrix bags $10.8M to advance its cancer-killing virus

DNAtrix CEO Frank Tufaro

Houston biotech DNAtrix has secured a $10.8 million grant to fund clinical development of its oncolytic virus to treat brain cancer, contending with a trove of drugmakers in the promising space.

The money, supplied by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), will help DNAtrix advance DNX-2401, a genetically modified adenovirus designed to selectively invade tumor cells in patients with glioblastoma. Once it penetrates its targets, the viral load ruptures and destroys the tumor cells, proliferating its anticancer action while sparing healthy tissue, the company said.

CPRIT's grant will be meted out over three years, and the institute's support "offers additional validation of our cancer program and the clinical benefits that we continue to observe in our clinical trials, including long-term survival and tumor destruction," DNAtrix CEO Frank Tufaro said in a statement.

The drug is in the midst of a Phase Ib trial in combination with temozolomide, and DNAtrix said it has thus far demonstrated safety with some promising results in efficacy. That study, underway in Spain, follows a prior dose-escalation trial with DNX-2401 as a monotherapy in brain cancer patients, and the company believes it's amassing compelling evidence that could carry its investigational virus into mid-stage development.

DNX-2401 is in a promising class of newfangled viral cancer treatments, led by Amgen's ($AMGN) Phase III T-Vec, which targets melanoma, and joined by offerings from Oncolytics Biotech ($ONCY) and Merck KGaA. DNAtrix believes its platform may also have applications in ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

The company's haul was one of 17 grants CPRIT handed out this month, totaling $86 million for biotech outfits and research institutions including ProNAi Therapeutics and the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center.

- read the announcement