Astrazeneca doubles down on oncolytic viruses

The limited clinical progress most oncolytic viruses have made so far does not appear to be putting Astrazeneca off. The UK group is making another, albeit low-risk, bet on the technology with today’s $10m deal with France’s Transgene. The fact that little has been heard about Astra’s earlier 2015 foray into the world of oncolytic viruses (OV), a deal with Omnis Pharmaceuticals, could explain why Astra is trying again with Transgene, which under the latest tie-up will develop five armed OVs. The timing of the Astrazenca deal could also be fortuitous for Transgene, which is still awaiting futility analysis of a trial of a separate OV, Pexa-Vec, under a joint venture with Sillajen. Failure here would be a big blow to the wider OV field – a risk overhang that could explain the modest-looking up-front Astra has paid. But Astra is not alone in hedging its bets on a technology that so far looks best suited to combinations. In February 2018 Merck & Co paid $394m for Viralytics, in essence to study Cavatak with Keytruda, and this was quickly followed by Boehringer Ingelheim buying out its OV partner Viratherapeutics for $245m. For just $10m Astra seems to have picked a very affordable ride on the bandwagon.  

Selected oncolytic virus deals
Date Source Buyer Deal type Up-front ($m) Note
May 2019 Transgene Astrazeneca Licensing 10 Five research candidates
Sep 2018 Viratherapeutics Boehringer Ingelheim Acquisition 245 VSV-GP project, preclinical
Feb 2018 Viralytics Merck & Co Acquisition 394 Cavatak, phase II asset
Nov 2017 Oncolytics Adlai Norte Licensing 5 Far East development of Reolysin
Oct 2017 Turnstone Biologics Abbvie Licensing Undisclosed Ad-MG1-MAGEA3, phase I/II asset
Dec 2016 Ignite Immunotherapy Pfizer Acquisition Undisclosed 50% stake
Dec 2016 Psioxus Bristol-Myers Squib Licensing Undisclosed NG-348, preclinical asset
Dec 2016 Takara Bio Otsuka Licensing Undisclosed Japan rights to HF10
Nov 2016 Virttu Biologics Sorrento Acquisition 25 (equity) Seprehvir, phase II asset
Jun 2016 Psioxus Bristol-Myers Squib Licensing 10 Enadenotucirev, phase I collaboration
Jun 2015 Oncos Targovax Acquisition Undisclosed Structured as a 50/50 merger
Jan 2015 Omnis Astrazeneca Licensing Undisclosed VSV project, phase II
Nov 2013 Jennerex Sillajen Acquisition Undisclosed $150m biodollar value
Jan 2011 Biovex Amgen Acquisition 424 Imlygic, approved for melanoma in 2015
Source: company statements.

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