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Synthetic Virus Company Forms, Raises $77M

Adenovirus schematic

Adenovirus 3D schematic (Thomas Splettstoesser, Wikimedia Commons)

5 Jan. 2021. A new biotechnology enterprise is underway that develops synthetic viruses attacking solid tumor cancers, based on research at the Salk Institute. IconOVir Bio Inc. in San Diego, is also raising $77 million in its first venture funding round.

IconOVir Bio is founded by Two River Group, a life science investor and business-incubation company, led by Arie Belldegrun, who founded the pioneering cancer cell therapy companies Kite Pharma and Allogene Therapeutics, and David Chang, Allogene’s president and CEO. Chang chairs IconOVir’s board of directors.

IconOVir Bio’s scientific founder is Clodagh O’Shea, professor of molecular and cell biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in San Diego, who also chairs the company’s scientific advisory board. O’Shea’s research discovered a process for developing synthetic viruses, assembled from libraries of modular DNA parts, to seek out and attack cancer cells. The viruses, derived from benign adenoviruses similar to those responsible for the common cold, are programmed to selectively target cancer cells. When attacking cancer cells, the cells rupture spreading viral fragments also programmed to attack other similar cancer cells. The synthetic viruses, however, ignore healthy cells and tissue, reducing the chance for adverse side effects.

Lead therapy attacks several solid tumor cancers

IconOVir Bio’s lead therapy candidate, code-named IOV-1042, is a synthetic virus derived from the common cold virus. The company says in preclinical tests IOV-1042 infects and kills a range of solid tumor cancer cells including head and neck, bladder, lung, and breast cancer cells. IconOVir says it expects to submit to FDA an investigational new drug application for IOV-1042, in effect a request to conduct a clinical trial, in the first half of 2022.

IconOVir Bio is raising $77 million in its series A or first venture funding round led by life science investors Nextech in Zurich and Vida Ventures in Boston. Taking part in the round are Two River Group, Bellco Capital, Polaris Partners, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Wellington Management Company LLP, and Logos Capital.

“We are committed to designing and developing the next generation of high-potency, tumor-selective oncolytic viruses that can be used in a wide variety of solid tumors, including metastatic disease,” says Mark McCamish, IconOVir Bio’s CEO in a company statement. “In pursuit of that goal, and in collaboration with Dr. O’Shea, we have created a robust discovery pipeline. With our series A financing, raised from the support of premier health care investors, we believe we have the financial resources to advance our product candidates into clinical development over the next 18 to 24 months.”

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