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Biotechs to Develop Personal Cancer-Killing Virus Vaccines

Adenovirus illustration

Adenovirus illustration (Richard Feldmann, National Cancer Institute)

13 Nov. 2018. Two biotechnology companies developing engineered viruses as cancer therapies plan to create personalized treatments for solid tumors with viruses that harness the immune system. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the agreement between DNAtrix in Houston and Valo Therapeutics in Helsinki, Finland were not disclosed.

Both DNAtrix and Valo Therapeutics use adenoviruses as therapeutic devices to treat cancer. To most people, adenoviruses are benign, but they can cause symptoms similar to the common cold or other viral diseases. DNAtrix develops what it calls “armed viruses,” adenoviruses engineered to enhance and invoke immune-system responses to attack tumor cells. The armed viruses attack tumors directly, but also stimulate T-cells in the immune system to kill tumor cells.

The company, a spin-off enterprise from MD Anderson Cancer Center, currently designs adenovirus treatments for tumors expressing proteins known as tumor necrosis factor receptors, associated with breast, melanoma, brain, and lung cancer. DNAtrix says it successfully tested these treatments in lab animals and has one therapy called tasadenoturev, or DNX-2401, in a clinical trial among patients with the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma. As reported by Science & Enterprise in February, the trial reported mixed results, with dramatic efficacy among some patients, but limited results for others. The company is recruiting participants for other clinical studies of DNX-2401 in patients with brain cancer both alone and with other cancer drugs.

Valo Therapeutics, a spin-off enterprise from University of Helsinki founded in January 2017, also develops cancer immunotherapies with adenoviruses, but modifies the viruses with cancer-killing peptides, short chains of amino acids resembling simple proteins. In the company’s technology known as Pepticrad, the capsid, or viral shell, absorbs the peptides into the virus, turning the virus into a antigen that provokes an immune response specific to the targeted tumor. Valo advanced the technology so multiple peptides can be included into a single virus, including neoantigens, peptides expressed by individual cancer patients’ tumors.

DNAtrix and Valo are collaborating on development of adenovirus cancer vaccines that combine the armed viruses from DNAtrix with Valo’s personalized neoantigen peptides, to provide cancer therapies addressing the precise molecular composition of a patient’s tumor. Frank Tufaro, CEO of DNAtrix, notes in a joint statement, “For the first time, we can combine the potent tumor killing and immune stimulation triggered by viruses along with a patient specific anti-tumor vaccine for generating effective anti-tumor immunity. Perhaps most importantly, the process eliminates the need to manufacture new viruses for each patient.” Tufaro adds, “We are moving swiftly into the clinic to evaluate this exciting technology.”

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