Former bluebird bio (BLUE) CSO Takes the Reins at Oncorus; Startup Launches with $57 Million Series A
7/19/2016 8:30:24 AM
July 19, 2016
By Mark Terry,
BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Oncorus launched today with $57 million in Series A financing. The round was led by MPM Capital with equal contributions from MPM BV2014 and the Oncology Impact Fund. It was joined by Deerfield Management, Arkin Bio Ventures, Celgene (CELG), Excelyrate Capital, Long March Investment Fund and MPM’s SunStates Fund.
Mitchell Finer will be the company’s chief executive officer and chief scientific officer, as well as one of its co-founders. He is also on the board of directors. He most recently acted as the chief scientific officer of Bluebird Bio (BLUE). Thomas Chalberg will be the interim chief operating officer. Chalberg is the founder and chief executive officer of Avalanche Biotechnologies, and a developer of AAV-based gene delivery technology for ophthalmology. Other board members include Briggs Morrison, the chief executive officer of Syndax (SNDX), and Cameron Wheeler, principal, Deerfield Management, Alon Lazarus, Biotech Investment Manager at Arkin Bio Ventures.
The company has licensed patent rights from the University of Pittsburgh based on research by Joseph Glorioso and Paola Grandi, both of whom will join the company’s scientific advisory board. Glorioso is a professor of microbiology whose work has revolved around antiviral immune responses to infection, the genetics of viral pathogenesis and latency, and the mechanism of viral infection. Grandi is an assistant professor in Neurological Surgery with a joint appointment in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Her work has focused on the development and progression of brain tumors and the role of miRNAs in cancer genetics, as well as the molecular biology of herpes simplex virus.
Oncorus indicates that its focus will be on researching and developing “oncolytic viral constructs which will move through preclinical development and ultimately into clinical trials.” It hopes to develop a lead product for glioblastoma multiform (GBM). Glioblastoma is the most common and very aggressive type of brain tumor that has a very high recurrence rate.
An oncolytic virus is a virus that has either been naturally selected or genetically engineered to grow in cancer cells and kill them. They typically involve genetically engineered adenoviruses, although the company indicates it will begin with a herpes simplex virus.
“Oncorus’s next-generation immunotherapy platform is extremely innovative and could potentially help many thousands of patients diagnosed with deadly cancers such as glioblastoma,” said Luke Evnin, the company’s chairman of the board of directors and co-founder of MPM Capital, in a statement. “We are pleased to have an outstanding group of co-investors supporting this experienced management team to advance what we believe could become a new paradigm in cancer treatment.”
Oncolytic viruses are one of several cutting edge approaches that more or less fall into the fairly new concept of immuno-oncology, getting the immune system to fight cancer. In 2011, Amgen (AMGN) acquired an oncolytic virus program from BioVex for $1 billion. The treatment, Imlygic (talimogene laherparepvec) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2015 to treat melanoma.
The company also indicates on its website that it has a focus on corporate philanthropy, “and has taken a pledge to donate a portion of product sales to fund promising cancer research and to support cancer care in the developing world.” It’s indeed a nice sentiment, but since the company is years from having a product to sell, probably isn’t its number one priority.
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