Transgene and AZ to explore virus-based immunotherapies

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Duncan Andison)
(Image: Getty/Duncan Andison)

Related tags Astrazeneca Transgene Immunotherapy Immuno-oncology

The two companies will work to co-develop five oncolytic virus candidates through a collaborative research, option and licensing agreement.

AstraZeneca will pay Transgene, a French biotech, $10m (€8.9m) upfront to initiate the collaboration. Transgene is also eligible to receive a further $3m dependent on pre-clinical milestones.

In addition, there will be licensing exercise options on each candidate developed, and standard development and commercial milestones.

A spokesperson for Transgene told us that the upfront fee will be used to directly speed up the development of the five candidates, and “will also serve at consolidating our technological expertise in molecular virology, and protein engineering.”

Transgene specialises in developing virus-based immunotherapies to target cancers and infectious diseases, with the latter being of particular interest to AZ.

The spokesperson explained that armed oncolytic viruses act on tumours in three ways:

  • They selectively replicate in tumour cells, inducing cell death
  • This cell death is immunogenic by releasing specific cytokine, chemokines, and cell signalling molecules, that attract lymphocytes, and all major immune boosters in the tumour microenvironment (the so-called transformation of “cold tumours” into “hot tumours”)
  • They also vectorise and deliver into the tumour microenvironment additional recombinant functions (e.g. enzymes, antibodies, etc.), which can further reshape this environment, and associated immunosuppressive pathways, and thus bring additional mechanisms to eradicate the tumour. Via these multiple modes of actions, they represent advanced immunotherapeutic agents that combine several weapons in a single vehicle 

Transgene will be responsible for in-vivo pre-clinical development, which AZ will have the option to take further into clinical development and commercialisation.

Jean-Charles Soria, SVP of research and development, oncology, at AstraZeneca, 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.”

In full-year results for 2018, AZ revealed that the 8% growth of its operating profit had been fuelled by a 50% sales growth within its oncology division.

The company looked to further its position in this space, such as by taking a $242m stake in Innate Pharma​ and its investigational treatment for cancer, monalizumab.

Transgene has also signed a number of strategic collaborations to progress its pipeline, including a deal with BioInvent last month​, and by partnering agreements with Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Merck-Pfizer partnership to improve the efficacy of their PD-L/1 treatments.

The spokesperson for Transgene stated that it is too early to determine whether the agreement with AZ could be extended beyond the initial five candidates.

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