What You Need to Know About Oncorus
Published: Jan 20, 2017
January 9, 2017
(Last Updated: February 7, 2017 at 01:15pm PT)
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Oncorus is an early-stage biotech company focused on immuno-oncology. The company uses a next-generation oncolytic herpes simplex virus (oHSV) immunotherapy platform to improve upon first-generation oncolytic viruses.
“We expect our approach to dramatically increase the potency of the virus,” Mitchel Finer, the company’s chief executive officer and chief scientific officer, told BioSpace, “while retaining a strong safety profile. Greater killing of tumor cells has been demonstrated in animal models. And currently, the company’s lead candidate—ONCR-001—is in preclinical development for glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a highly malignant and aggressive cancer.”
The company believes that its approach, which retains all viral genes needed for viral replication in cancer cells, but prohibits replication in normal cells, leads to a virus that modulates the tumor microenvironment and facilitates a systemic anti-tumor T-cell immune response.
The company licensed certain patent rights from the University of Pittsburgh based on the work of Joseph Glorioso III and Paola Grandi, who both are on the company’s Scientific Advisory Board.
“In order to prevent replication in normal (non-tumor) cells, oHSV replication is under the control of micro-RNAs (or MiRs), which are fundamentally different in normal cells versus cancer cells,” Finer said. “miRs are short non-coding RNAs that regulate the ability of classical messenger RNAs (mRNAs) to be translated into protein or to promote the degradation of classical mRNAs.”
Oncorus believes the technology platform will be applicable to many types of cancers.
Mitchell Finer—founder, chief executive officer, chief scientific officer and board member. Finer joined MPM Capital as managing director in 2015 and is on the board of directors of its portfolio company Semma Therapeutics. Prior to MPM, he served as chief scientific officer of bluebird bio , where he continues to serve on the company’s scientific advisory board.
Cyrus Mozayeni—co-founder, president and chief business officer. Prior to joining Oncorus, Mozayeni was vice president and global head of business development and alliance management at bluebird bio.
Thomas Chalberg—chief operating officer. In addition to his role at Oncorus, Chalberg is on the board of directors of Ethris GmBH. Before joining Oncorus, he was founder and former chief executive officer of Avalanche Biotechnologies (now Adverum Biotechnologies .
Michael Paglia—senior director, chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC) operations. Most recently, Paglia was senior director of technical operations and head of cellular process development and manufacturing operations at bluebird bio.
Kenneth Greenberg—co-founder and consultant. Prior to Oncorus, Paglia co-founded Switch Bio. Before that he was chief scientific officer of Eos Neuroscience and Spiral Devices.
Stacy Gilroy—director, operations. Prior to joining Oncorus, Gilroy helped form and lead operations at bluebird bio from 2010 to 2016.
In July 2016, Oncorus launched with a $57 million Series A financing round. It was led by MPM Capital, with equal contribution from MPM BV2014 and the Oncology Impact Fund, and included Deerfield Management, Arkin Bio Ventures, Celgene , Excelyrate Capital, Long March Investment Fund and MPM’s SunStates Fund. In December 2016, Astellas Venture Management, the corporate venture arm of Astellas Pharma , provided Series A financing support, increasing the Series A to $61 million. The company also emphasizes the considerable support it receives from Celgene.
The company chose glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) as a lead indication because of a high unmet need. Early animal studies demonstrated that ONCR-001 is a potent oncolytic virus that selectively kills cancer cells while sparing normal brain cells.
“We believe these results are promising,” Finer told BioSpace, “and could be a viable new treatment for patients suffering from GBM.”
In 2015, Amgen IMLYGIC (talimogene herparvovec) TVEC was approved, which established a clear regulatory pathway for the development of oncolytic virus immunotherapy. Oncorus’s immunotherapy platform is similar to TVEC.
“As a consequence,” Finer said, “oncolytic vector therapy can be defined as the ‘ultimate’ personalized medicine since. Upon receiving the therapy, each patient will develop an immune response against their own specific tumor antigens (signatures). The Oncorus approach improves upon first generation oncolytic viruses by not having to remove genes from the virus, thereby dramatically improving the potency of the virus. This provides greater killing of tumor cells.”
Dollars and Deals
Finer told BioSpace, “As with any growing biotechnology company, we will actively seek additional opportunities and partners in both academia and industry. We welcome contacts from investors, as well as potential partners interested in learning more about Oncorus.”
What to Look For
The company plans to use the proceeds from its Series A financing round to advance its immunotherapy platform using its next generation oHSV. It will also invest in research and development of oncolytic viral constructs, which will move through preclinical development and eventually into clinical trials.
At the moment, ONCR-01 is in preclinical development for GBM. Oncorus also plans to expand and improve its technology platform and accelerate the development of pipeline programs in other types of cancer.
“Our business model is based on innovative research and decades of experience,” Finer told BioSpace. “Our management team and academic founders have a proven, successful track record in the discovery and development of engineered viruses. In addition, Oncorus has assembled the world’s premier researchers and thought leaders in immunotherapy, oncolytic virus drug development and clinical oncology to serve on our Scientific and Clinical Advisory Boards. This powerful combination of experience and expertise will enable the company to bring its products into human clinical trials.”
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