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Themis pursues oncolytic virotherapies with Max-Planck
November 2018
by Mel J. Yeates  |  Email the author
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VIENNA, Austria—In early October, Themis Bioscience publicized a license agreement with Max-Planck-Innovation GmbH, the technology transfer agency of the Max Planck Society in Germany, granting Themis exclusive worldwide license to develop, manufacture and commercialize therapies based on an oncolytic measles virus platform that was jointly developed by the Eberhard-Karls-University Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
 
“We believe the longstanding expertise of Prof. Ulrich Lauer’s virotherapy research group at the University Tübingen in advanced oncolytic approaches, together with our measles virus product development capabilities, provides a strong foundation to rapidly develop differentiated immuno-oncology therapeutics,” says Erich Tauber, CEO and founder of Themis.
 
Tauber notes that “this is the first partnership agreement between Themis Bioscience and the Max-Planck-Innovation GmbH, the technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society. Themis and the MPI group have been enjoying friendly scientific relationships over the last years but have only now entered into a formal agreement.”
 
“Based on our expertise with the measles vaccine virus platform, our clinical validation and the cGMP manufacturing capabilities we developed for our infectious disease indications, we felt that accessing the IP jointly developed by Prof. Lauer’s lab at the University Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry would complement our existing portfolio,” he adds. “Our focus is now to utilize the natural tumor-killing potential of the vector to treat cancer. The measles vector and its payload developed by the Lauer research group gives Themis quicker access to enter cancer indications, and we will also benefit from the expertise of Prof. Lauer to develop cancer virotherapies and testing them in the clinic.”
 
The licensed technology is a modified measles virus based on the viral genome sequence of the established measles vaccine strain, which has been used to immunize billions of people worldwide. The measles virus itself has innate anticancer properties, including mediating tumor cell lysis, T cell activation and specific tumor cell targeting. It can also be engineered to include a tumor-killing payload, making it a major building block for an effective oncolytic virus immunotherapy.
 
“The measles vaccine virus used by Themis Bioscience has been shown to possess inherent oncolytic capabilities (Noll et al., Int. J. Oncol. (2013); 43:103-112), and in-vitro and animal experiments have already demonstrated the positive effects of this vector in destroying tumor cells. Of the several mechanisms involved in this process, a vital aspect is its entry into the cell. The measles vaccine virus identifies a specific receptor, CD46, on the cell surface, which is overexpressed in tumor cells and can specifically mediate its entry into cancer cells. In addition, the antitumor effect of the measles vector platform can be further enhanced by arming the vector with specific tumor killing payloads,” Tauber explains.
 
“Our most advanced program in immunotherapy uses an inserted gene encoding for an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of a safe, non-toxic and licensed anti-mycoticum (5-FC, prodrug) into a cytotoxic, clinically approved, chemotherapeutic drug (5-FU). In cancer cells, 5-FU results in the inhibition of DNA and protein synthesis which triggers cell death, even in those cells resistant to virus-induced destruction (i.e. local chemotherapy),” he continues. “This approach allows the use of the chemotherapeutic drug in a highly targeted manner rather than a systemic application that causes major side effects. We will further explore the potential of different tumor-killing and immune-modulatory payloads to increase the oncolytic effect or combining the oncolytic effect with other novel cancer therapies with synergistic mechanisms of action to identify the greatest potential of the technology in cancer.”
 
According to Tauber, “We are currently working on target selection and optimization in immuno-oncology and are considering several measles vector-based virotherapy programs equipped with tumor-killing payloads. Our goal is to bring the first program into the clinic next year. Furthermore, we will continue to expand the cancer immunotherapy potential of the platform through collaborations with external research and development teams at the forefront of oncology innovations to maximize the commercial and therapeutic potential.”
 
Themis has established a robust cGMP manufacturing process for its measles vector technology, and built a broad pipeline with both proprietary and partnered infectious disease vaccine candidates. The lead program in Chikungunya is anticipated to enter Phase 3 development in the near- to medium-term.
 
“We have seen clinical success with our platform in infectious disease indications, with our lead program in Chikungunya on the verge of entering Phase 3 development, which is very exciting for us,” Tauber tells DDNews. “Based on this success, our experienced clinical development and management team as well as the support from our partners, we believe we have all the right ingredients to investigate the potential of our measles vector platform as novel cancer treatment in patients. The ability to accessorize the measles vector with different tumor-killing and immune-modulatory payloads makes it a prime building block for novel immune-oncology treatments, whether alone or in combination with other novel cancer therapies with synergistic mechanisms of actions.”
 
“Overall this agreement is an important strategic move for us as a company as we broaden our pipeline beyond infectious diseases and invest in the future growth of the company,” he concludes. “These are currently very exciting times for Themis with a few key milestones upcoming, including the full results publication from our Chikungunya Phase 2 trial, [and] the initiation of the clinical development for our CEPI-partnership on developing vaccines for Lassa fever, as well as bringing our first oncology candidate to the clinic.”
 
Code: E111802

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