Abalos Therapeutics launches today with €12M in Series A funding to get the development of its arenavirus-based cancer therapies off the ground.
Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund and Gründerfonds Ruhr co-led the investment round, with additional contributions from NRW.BANK and High-Tech Gründerfonds.
Abalos, which is based in Essen, Germany, will focus on developing anti-cancer drugs with engineered arenaviruses that can infect cancer cells and generate a strong immune response from the body against the tumor.
The company was established based on research carried out by the immunologists Karl and Philipp Lang who are professors at the University of Duisburg-Essen and the University of Düsseldorf, respectively. Marcus Kostka has joined the company as CEO, after many years working at Boehringer Ingelheim, and immuno-oncology specialist Jörg Vollmer will be the new CSO.
Unlike most oncolytic viruses, which target and kill cancer cells directly in combination with triggering an immune response from the patient, the engineered arenavirus candidates that Abalos is developing will rely on the patient’s immune system to target cancer cells. According to the company, replication of its arenavirus candidates in the targeted cancer cells should trigger a long term immune response to the tumor from the patient’s immune system.
Many biotechs have been trying to develop cancer-targeting viruses for years, but with fairly limited success. Only one oncolytic viral therapy — Imlygic, developed by Amgen to treat melanoma — has achieved FDA approval, although had limited commercial success. The recent phase III trial failure of Transgene’s liver cancer oncolytic therapy, one of the most advanced recent candidates for approval, is also problematic for the area.
Despite this, there is considerable interest in virus-based immuno-oncology with big pharma such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co acquiring oncolytic virus-focused biotechs during the last year. However, which company will be the next to get an oncolytic viral therapy to market approval remains to be seen.
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