Oncorus Raised $79.5 Million Series B to Take Cancer-Killing Virus Program into the Clinic
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Oncorus closed on a Series B round worth $79.5 million. The round was co-led by Cowen Healthcare Investments and Perceptive Advisors. Series A investors also participated, including MPM Capital, UBS Oncology Impact Fund, Deerfield Management, Arkin Bioventures, Celgene and Astellas Venture Management. New investors included Survey Capital, Sphera Funds, IMM Investment, QUAD Investment Management, UTC Investment, SV Investment Corp. and Shinhan Investment-Private Equity.
Oncorus focuses on developing oncolytic viruses, which is to say, engineered viruses that infect cancer cells and destroy them. The first oncolytic virus ever approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was Amgen’s Imlygic (talimogene laherparepvec) that uses a modified herpes simplex virus. It was approved in 2015 for melanoma that can’t be treated with surgery.
Oncorus’s lead drug candidate is ONCR-177, which is also a modified herpes virus. The company indicates that in the four years since Imlygic was approved, they have found ways to allow the viruses to carry a larger therapeutic payload. ONCR-177 is loaded with five anti-cancer proteins that stimulate different components of the immune system.
“Oncolytic virus therapies have the potential to transform outcomes for cancer patients,” said Theodore Ashburn, president and chief executive officer of Oncorus. “We intend to use the proceeds from this oversubscribed financing to support our advancement of novel, proprietary intratumoral and intravenous approaches with the goal of addressing severe unmet medical needs in oncology. We’re thrilled to welcome Cowen Healthcare Investments, Perceptive Advisors and our other new investors and are grateful for the continued support of our existing investors.”
The company expects to get ONCR-177 into the clinic in early 2020. It is being developed to treat squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN), melanoma and liver tumors. It will also use the funds to progress its synthetic oncolytic virus platform. This platform is designed to allow repeat, intravenous administration of oncolytic viruses for cancers, including lung cancer, where repeated intratumoral dosing isn’t feasible, because it would require multiple transfusions directly into lung tissue.
Oncorus’ technology also has more safety techniques. It is designed to focus and replicate only on cancer cells, not healthy cells. The company presented preclinical data at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting in April showing that ONCR-177 partially or completely diminished tumors and led to protective immunity. The safety protocols seemed to work because there was no evidence of the virus or its payload outside the tumor.
The company believes ONCR-177 would be used in combination with checkpoint inhibitors, such as Merck’s Keytruda (prembrolizumab) or Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (nivolumab) or as a standalone therapy.
Oncorus’ second pipeline candidate is a synthetic oncolytic virus designed to be administered intravenously so it would circulate throughout the body. This would potentially be used to treat a wider variety of tumors, including lung cancer.
“The oncolytic virus space continues to gain momentum, as signaled by continued investment from both financial and strategic parties,” said Kevin Raidy, managing partner, Cowen Healthcare Investments. “Oncorus is poised to become a leader in this emerging modality. There are significant distinctions among the various oncolytic virus platforms; we believe Oncorus is a standout in this class. We look forward to seeing Oncorus’ proprietary innovations translate in the clinic setting with the promise of dramatically improving clinical outcomes for cancer patients.”