INGELHEIM, Germany—Boehringer Ingelheim wants to build up its oncology presence with more R&D into next-generation viral-based immuno-oncology therapies, and part of that will be some “inorganic” growth as it buys up Austria-based ViraTherapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company specializing in the development of oncolytic viral therapies.
Mid-September saw Boehringer Ingelheim announce that it had acquired all shares of ViraTherapeutics, which has developed the lead candidate VSV-GP [vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) with modified glycoprotein (GP)], which is being investigated alone and in combination with other therapies. The total transaction value of €210 million (about $241.8 million) is based on an option and share purchase agreement signed between the companies in August 2016.
ViraTherapeutics was a portfolio company of the two venture investors EMBL Ventures and the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund. Post-acquisition, ViraTherapeutics will operate in Innsbruck, Austria, as a distinct unit of Boehringer Ingelheim’s Discovery Research organization, “maintaining its innovative biotech heritage and close connections to the Medical University of Innsbruck and the regional scientific community,” according to the acquiring company.
Oncolytic viral therapy is a cancer treatment approach with two modes of action. First, the virus specifically replicates in and kills cancer cells. Second, viral infection stimulates the immune system to recognize these same cancer cells, leading to immune-mediated killing of both infected and non-infected cancer cells, further enhancing tumor control. Boehringer Ingelheim and ViraTherapeutics are working to develop a next-generation oncolytic viral therapy platform. The lead investigational candidate leveraging the platform, VSV-GP, has reportedly shown promising results in preclinical models, especially in combination with key immune modulatory principles that Boehringer Ingelheim is already developing.
“The acquisition of ViraTherapeutics, with its exciting oncolytic virus platform, is the conclusion of a trusting and close cooperation over two years,” said Dr. Heinz Schwer, CEO of ViraTherapeutics. “We are highly optimistic that our VSV-based development programs and technology will complement Boehringer Ingelheim’s immuno-oncology franchise and will serve as a source of innovative, new treatment options for patients living with cancer.”
“I want to thank the team around scientific founder Dorothee von Laer, CEO Heinz Schwer and COO Lisa Egerer for their dedication to research and scientific progress that led to a productive collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim, and ultimately to the early exercise of the purchase option,” added Dr. Klaus Schollmeier, chairman of ViraTherapeutics’ advisory board.
Boehringer Ingelheim explains that using a dual approach for potential treatment options, specifically combining immuno-oncology approaches with tumor cell-directed treatments, is central to its cancer immunology research strategy, adding that oncolytic virus-based therapies are consistent with and complementary to that strategy.
“Our approach is rooted in transforming ‘cold’ tumors, or immunologically inactive tumors that are not responsive to the checkpoint blockers, to ‘hot’ tumors—those that are most susceptible to immune system attack,” said Dr. Michel Pairet, a member of Boehringer Ingelheim’s board of managing directors. “We are committed to investing in early research with promise and where our expertise best complements the strengths of our partners. Together, we aim to discover breakthrough medical treatments to transform the lives of patients and win the fight against cancer.”