Boehringer Ingelheim is paying €210M to acquire all the remaining shares of ViraTherapeutics, an Austrian biotech company developing oncolytic viral therapies for cancer.
ViraTherapeutics develops cancer therapies based on viruses that selectively kill tumor cells, based on the principle that cancer cells show defective mechanisms to defend themselves against viruses that are not able to harm healthy cells. Following the acquisition, the biotech company will keep operating in its facilities in Innsbruck, Austria, becoming a research unit of Boehringer Ingelheim.
ViraTherapeutics and Boehringer Ingelheim had been collaborating for over two years, testing the Austrian biotech’s lead candidate in combination with immunomodulatory treatments being developed by the big pharma. The goal is to turn cold tumors — that is, invisible or irresponsive to the immune system — into hot tumors that immune cells can effectively detect and eliminate. According to Boehringer Ingelheim, these combinations have shown “promising results” in preclinical trials.
Currently, there is only one oncolytic virus therapy in the market, Amgen’s Imlygic, whose sales haven’t been that successful. However, pharma companies seem to be showing increasing interest in this approach. In May, Johnson & Johnson bought US-based BeneVir to add oncolytic viruses to its pipeline. In February, Merck acquired the Australian oncolytic virus company Viralytics. And in 2016, Bristol-Myers Squibb made a deal with British biotech PsiOxus Therapeutics worth up to €850M for the development of an oncolytic viral therapy.
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