Boehringer Ingelheim has exercised its option to buy ViraTherapeutics for €210 million ($245 million), the buyer and the acquired company’s co-lead investor EMBL Ventures said, in a deal that gives Boehringer full control over a preclinical viral-based cancer immunotherapy the companies have been co-developing for two years.
EMBL Ventures is an early-stage European life science venture capital firm that first invested in the company in 2015 as part of its €3.6 million ($4.2 million) Series A financing round. A year later, EMBL partnered with the German pharma’s Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund—whose areas of investment focus include immuno-oncology—to serve as co-lead investors in ViraTherapeutics.
The investments occurred when Boehringer Ingelheim agreed to co-develop ViraTherapeutics’ oncolytic virus therapy platform and lead candidate, the solid tumor treatment vesicular stomatitis virus with modified glycoprotein (VSV-GP), alone and in combination therapies, through a collaboration that gave Boehringer Ingelheim rights to acquire the privately-held Austrian biotech until the end of Phase I clinical development of VSV-GP.
VSV-GP replaces the glycoprotein of VSV by the glycoprotein of the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) to conceal the virus from the immune system. In preclinical models, VSV-GP has shown promising results as it did not induce virus-neutralizing antibodies, potentially enabling repeated administration, ViraTherapeutics and Boehringer Ingelheim have said.
VSV-GP is the lead candidate developed from the oncolytic viral therapy platform, in which the virus replicates in and kills cancer cells. Viral infection stimulates the immune system to recognize these same cancer cells, leading to immune-mediated killing of both infected and noninfected cancer cells, further enhancing tumor control, according to Boehringer Ingelheim and ViraTherapeutics.
In March, the companies expanded their collaboration by agreeing to develop a second oncolytic virus program based on the VSV platform. In announcing the expanded collaboration. ViraTherapeutics did not disclose details about the second program or the value of the expanded collaboration—but did say Boehringer Ingelheim will cover all R&D costs for the additional virus development candidate.
“The acquisition of ViraTherapeutics with its exciting oncolytic virus platform is the conclusion of a trusting and close cooperation over two years,” Heinz Schwer, Ph.D., MBA, CEO of ViraTherapeutics, said in a statement. “We are highly optimistic that our VSV-based development programs and technology will complement Boehringer Ingelheim’s immuno-oncology franchise and will serve as a source of innovative, new treatment options for patients living with cancer.”
Boehringer Ingelheim has acquired all shares of ViraTherapeutics, which said it will continue to operate in Innsbruck, Austria, as a distinct unit of Boehringer Ingelheim’s Discovery Research organization.
ViraTherapeutics said it will maintain its close connection to the Medical University of Innsbruck, from which it was spun out in 2013 by Dorothee von Laer, M.D., the University’s head of the division of virology. The company currently has 19 employees.
The Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund has €250 million ($292 million) under management and oversees a portfolio of 22 active companies. EMBL Ventures, the venture arm of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), has €120 million ($140 million) under management and supervises a portfolio of 16 companies.