AbbVie Leaps Into the Land of Oncolytics With New Turnstone Biologics Tie-Up

Published: Oct 11, 2017

AbbVie Leaps Into the Land of Oncolytics With New Turnstone Biologics Tie-Up October 10, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

ONTARIO, Canada – One year after snagging $41 million in financing, Turnstone Biologics has secured additional support through a partnership with Illinois-based AbbVie.

The pharma giant has embraced Turnstone’s oncolytic therapy approach to fighting cancer. AbbVie inked an exclusive deal to license up to three of Turnstone’s next-generation oncolytic viral immunotherapies. Turnstone’s oncolytic virus has been developed to replicate and destroy cancer cells by using defective pathways in tumors.

Turnstone’s approach uses its Maraba virus platform, which is designed to function as both an oncolytic virus and an immune-stimulating T cell vaccine. Turnstone said the Maraba platform does not affect healthy cells. The platform “directly attacks cancer cells and changes the tumor microenvironment to make the cancer susceptible to the targeted vaccine-induced immune response,” the company said. The therapy is designed to kill cancer cells at the site of the tumor and at metastatic sites throughout the body.

Additionally, the platform is designed so the therapy generates “durable memory and preventing recurrence,” the company said. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but AbbVie will have the option to obtain all global development and commercialization rights to Turnstone Biologics' Ad-MG1-MAGEA3 therapy. Additionally, AbbVie has the option for two research-stage candidates in development by Turnstone. Each of the therapies leverages Turnstone's first-in-class platform based on an engineered Maraba virus.

In April, Turnstone dosed its first patient in a Phase I/II trial that combines MG1-MAGEA3 with pembrolizumab (Keytruda), to treat patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who are no longer responsive to chemotherapy. MG1-MAGEA3 is also being studied as a monotherapy.

Tom Hudson, AbbVie’s head of oncology discovery and early development, said the unique approach to cancer treatment is a complement to AbbVie’s “expanding portfolio of novel therapies in development.”

"The combination of our world-class expertise in oncology drug development partnered with Turnstone's innovative therapeutic platform has the potential to generate first-in-class immunotherapies that can attack tumors directly and improve patients' response to treatment,” Hudson said in a statement.

Turnstone Chief Executive Officer Sammy Farah said the deal with AbbVie, combined with the millions of dollars in financing last year, Turnstone has progressed from a “single early-stage immunotherapy program to a promising clinical-stage pipeline of multiple therapeutic candidates” in different indications. He said the deal with AbbVie will accelerate the company’s development of Maraba-based therapies for solid tumors.

"We are committed to delivering on the promise of our technology, and will rapidly advance the AbbVie-optioned therapies as well as our own pipeline of medicines,” Farah added.

Oncolytics have been shown to make a difference in treating various cancers. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first oncolytic virus therapy for melanoma, Amgen’s Imlygic. Amgen’s drug is a genetically modified herpes simplex type 1 virus that is injected directly into tumors.

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