Targeted cancer therapy
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U.K. startup VacV Biotherapeutics has emerged from stealth mode as it stands poised to bring its novel viral-based cancer therapies into clinical development.

The spin out from Barts Cancer Institute and Queen Mary University of London uses immunotherapy based on a genetically modified version of the Vaccinia virus to stimulate the immune system while at the same time destroying cancer cells.

The company, launched in 2022, maintains that its approach offers benefits over existing immunotherapies including minimized toxicity, increased specificity, and efficacy. It claims to enable the efficient systemic delivery of an immunotherapy for the first time.

“VacV’s platform addresses many of the historic challenges faced by oncolytic viruses and builds on more than 20 years of research experience of its founders,” said VacV Biotherapeutics executive chairman Glyn Edwards in a press statement.

“We use a carefully engineered virus to destroy the tumor and activate anti-cancer immunity at the same time. As a pioneer in this space, VacV has generated viruses with optimal payloads and backbones to create a systemically deliverable, targeted, viral-based cancer immunotherapy.

The company has already gained a U.S.$3 million investment from Proxima Ventures, which it used to complete preclinical studies and build its team.

VacV is focused on treating a range of refractory solid tumors and its pipeline is designed to address common cancers and rarer malignancies that have limited or no standard of care.

Its development program includes VacV001 for pancreatic cancer and glioblastoma and VacV002 for colorectal cancer with liver metastasis, both of which are nearing the end of preclinical development.

The cancer immunotherapy company predicts that its most advanced programs will be set to enter clinical trials over the next few years.

It deploys a proprietary version of the oncolytic Lister strain Vaccinia virus that includes gene deletions to enhance tumor specific responses and the induction of anti-tumor responses.

The addition of payloads enhance viral spread within and between tumors, decrease early viral clearance and remodel the immunosuppressive micro-tumor environment to promote anti-tumor immunity.

The company’s development candidates are designed to work as monotherapy, although it says that efficacy is significantly enhanced when used with existing immunotherapies.

Current immunotherapies include immune checkpoint inhibitors, cancer vaccines and adoptive immune therapy such as CAR-T and TCR therapy, which activate the immune system against cancer.

However, they remain ineffective for some patients and VacV maintains that there is an urgent need for alternative mechanisms of immune induction and broadening the efficacy of approved immunotherapeutic regimes

“Our approach focuses on stimulating the patient’s immune system to fight cancer through the delivery of immune-modulating payloads as well as the virus’ oncolytic activity,” said VacV Biotherapeutics chief scientific officer Yaohe Wang.

“This expertly designed Vaccinia virus-based therapy allows for easy, intravenous administration whilst overcoming challenges of existing approaches, such as cancer vaccines, immuno-check point blockade and CAR-T/TCR-T cells. We are excited to be developing this therapy for patients in an effort to improve outcomes and prevent the recurrence of the disease.”

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