Boehringer Ingelheim will co-develop ViraTherapeutics’ oncolytic virus therapy platform and lead candidate vesicular stomatitis virus glycoprotein (VSV-GP) the companies said today.

The collaboration could generate up to €210 million (about $225 million) for ViraTherapeutics—and gives Boehringer Ingelheim rights to acquire the privately held Austrian biotech upon conclusion of Phase I development of VSV-GP.

The German pharma’s Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund—whose areas of investment focus include immuno-oncology—is a co-lead investor in ViraTherapeutics’ technology, along with EMBL Ventures.

ViraTherapeutics agreed to oversee preclinical and clinical testing of VSV-GP in Phase I trials. VSV-GP will be assessed alone and in combination with other therapies, the companies said.

“The technology developed by ViraTherapeutics may offer significant advantages compared to others currently under development,” Michel Pairet, Ph.D., member of Boehringer Ingelheim's Board of Managing Directors responsible for innovation, said in a statement.

According to the companies, VSV-GP has a shorter replication time than other oncolytic virus platforms currently under development. The oncolytic virus does not integrate with DNA and has been modified to avoid neural inflammation associated with wild-type viruses.

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 did not induce virus-neutralizing antibodies, potentially enabling repeated administration, ViraTherapeutics and Boehringer Ingelheim said.

“VSV-GP has demonstrated the ability to prime and boost an anti-cancer immune response and does not appear to prompt effective antiviral immune responses,” added Prof. Dorothee von Laer, M.D., scientific founder and CEO of ViraTherapeutics. “In the collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim, we can now fully explore the platform and therapeutic potential of our VSV-GP oncolytic virus.”

“We will also continue to investigate VSV-GPs potential to be armed with therapeutic genes as well as antigens for its use as a prophylactic or therapeutic vaccine vector,” Dr. von Laer added.

Dr. von Laer founded ViraTherapeutics in 2013, as a spin-out of the Medical University of Innsbruck, where she is head of the Virology Division.

Dr. Pairet added that the collaboration was an example of Boehringer Ingelheim's increasing focus on partnering and further complements the company's growing immune-oncology pipeline, which includes a cancer vaccine and next-generation checkpoint inhibitors.

Earlier this month, Boehringer Ingelheim sold to Amgen global development and commercial rights to one of its immuno-oncology candidates, BI 836909 (AMG 420). The bispecific T-cell engager (BiTE®) targets B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA), a potential target for multiple myeloma. The value of that agreement was not disclosed.

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