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AZ invests more in IO with Transgene oncolytic virus deal

Opportunity for combinations with IO pipeline

AZ

AstraZeneca continues to add to its presence in immuno-oncology, signing a new deal with Transgene to develop oncolytic virus candidates.

The UK-headquartered pharma company has just returned to growth, largely thanks to rising star targeted cancer treatments such as Tagrisso and Lynparza, and wants to consolidate its presence in immune-oncology.

The firm’s lead IO therapy Imfinzi has recently gained FDA and European approval in an important niche setting in lung cancer, but it’s otherwise an also-ran compared to Merck & Co’s Keytruda, BMS’ Opdivo and Roche’s Tecentriq, especially following failures in lung cancer.

That means AstraZeneca needs to broaden its IO pipeline to compete in the fast-evolving field. It signed a deal with France’s Innate Pharma last October (centred on its anti-NKG2A antibody, monalizumab (IPH2201), and yesterday added an alliance with another French biotech, Transgene.

Theresearch and licencing agreement centres on AZ developing five engineered oncolytic vaccinia virus candidates with Transgene, which specialises in the field.

Oncolytic virus immunotherapies have been a ‘next big thing’ in cancer for some time, but until now have failed to live up to their promise.

Companies such as AbbVie and J&J both struck deals in the field last year with biotech firms – Turnstone Biologics and BeneVir Biopharm respectively.  2018 also saw Merck & Co. acquire Australian firm Viralytics for $394m, suggesting growing belief in the oncolytic virus sector.

Transgene isone of the leading companies in the field, its candidatePexa-Vec being co-developed by South Korean firm Sillajen is inaphase 3liver cancer trial, with pivotal results expected imminently.

Analysts are pessimistic about the chances of its success – as it has failedin an earlier liver cancer study.

However this candidate is based on Transgene’s proprietary next-generation viral platform.

which has generated both oncolytic virus therapies and therapeutic vaccine candidates,the latter generating alliances for the firm in combination with checkpoint inhibitors, BMS’ Opdivo and Pfizer/Merck’s Bavencio.

AstraZeneca has similar plans to combined Transgene’s oncolytic viruses withits in-house pipeline ofImmuno-oncology (IO) treatments.

Jean Charles Soria

AstraZeneca's Jean-Charles Soria

Jean-Charles Soria, AstraZeneca’s senior vice president, Oncology R&D, said: “Oncolytic viruses have the potential to be transformational in oncology by directly causing tumour cell death, and also by delivering a potent payload in a targeted fashion that increases innate and adaptive immune system stimulation.

"AstraZeneca has an exciting portfolio of molecules that we believe may augment oncolytic virus activity. Transgene has been a leader in the development of vaccinia viruses for many years, and this collaboration will allow us to leverage their platform in the development of novel immunotherapies.”

The alliance will see Transgene contribute its oncolytic virus expertise to the collaboration, including viral design and engineering, and will provide its novel vaccinia virus platform technology containing a double gene deletion (TK-, RR-).  It will also lead on in vitro preclinical development, while AstraZeneca will select the transgenes to be encoded within the virus and will be responsible for further preclinical development activities in support of potential investigational new drug submissions.

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but it gives AstraZeneca the option to clinically develop and commercialise these novel oncolytic immunotherapies.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

3rd May 2019

From: Research

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