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Viral Disease Biotech Joins ElevateBio, Gains $120M

T-cells illustration

T-cells (NASA.gov)

22 May 2019. A biotechnology company developing immunotherapies for viral diseases is joining the ElevateBio consortium providing manufacturing for cell and gene therapies. The company, AlloVir in Houston, Texas is also raising $120 million in its second round of venture financing.

AlloVir, formed originally under the name ViraCyte LLC, develops engineered cell therapies for viral diseases that restore natural T-cell immunity in people with compromised immune systems, such as stem cell and organ transplant patients. These individuals, says the company are particularly susceptible to viral infections and lack the robust immune systems to fight them off. And current treatments for their condition do not address the patients’ underlying weakened immune systems.

The company licenses discoveries from Baylor College of Medicine, also in Houston, for its off-the-shelf synthetic T-cells for patients with compromised immune systems. AlloVir’s synthetic cells have proteins that stimulate the immune system from healthy donated T-cells exposed to fragments of viruses designed to trigger an immune response. The fragments, while targeting specific viruses, are not able to cause an infection in the patients. In July 2017, Science & Enterprise reported on the licensing deal between Baylor and ViraCyte.

The company tested its engineered T-cells in a mid-stage clinical trial among patients receiving blood-forming stem cell transplants from bone marrow donors, for treating blood-related cancers like lymphoma and leukemia. The 38 patients in the trial reported a total of 45 infections from 5 different viruses. Findings published in August 2017 show a single infusion of the engineered T-cells resulted in complete or partial clearing of the viruses in nearly all (92%) of the participants. Only 2 of the patients reported adverse immune system reactions, a mild form of graft-versus-host disease.

ElevateBio was formed only last week to offer companies like AlloVir facilities to develop cell and gene therapy products spun-off from academic research labs. As reported by Science & Enterprise, a central feature of ElevateBio is its Basecamp, a central product development lab and manufacturing facility for gene and cell therapies shared among ElevateBio’s portfolio companies.

AlloVir is testing its lead product Viralym-M in a clinical study with 80 stem cell transplant patients to treat infections from 6 viruses, including those in the earlier trial. AlloVir co-founder and chief scientist Ann Leen, also a professor at Baylor, says in a company statement that taking part in the ElevateBio consortium provides the infrastructure for larger-scale testing and production of its products. “This partnership,” says Leen, “provides AlloVir with fully integrated bench-to-bedside capabilities to accelerate the development and commercialization of our allogeneic, off-the-shelf, multi-virus specific T-cell immunotherapies.”

In addition, AlloVir is raising $120 million in its second venture funding round. The financing is led by Fidelity Management and Research Company, the investment advisor to Fidelity Investments. Joining the round is biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, and venture investors F2 Ventures, Redmile Group, Invus, EcoR1 Capital, Samsara BioCapital, and Leerink Partners Co-investment Fund.

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