Vyriad’s Cancer-Fighting Viruses to Get First Clinical Trial Against Solid Tumors
Mayo Clinic spinoff Vyriad Inc. of Rochester has reached a landmark with the first use of its genetically engineered, cancer-fighting viruses against solid tumors in a clinical setting.
The early-stage trial is to be conducted by Sanford Health at its cancer center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Vyriad, led by Dr. Stephen Russell, director of Mayo’s molecular medicine program, recently leased 25,000 square feet at the now-vacant Building 110 at Rochester’s IBM campus in a major expansion from its origins at the clinic’s Business Accelerator startup incubator.
It operates in the viral oncology space, producing bioengineered anti-cancer viruses most often derived from bugs such as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which affects livestock animals but is generally harmless for humans. With technology licensed from Mayo, it can alter VSV viruses to deliver toxic genetic payloads to cancer cells while leaving non-cancerous cells unaffected, unlike standard chemotherapy treatments.
TCB reported in April that Vryiad now boasts a pipeline of eight oncolytic virotherapies in clinical trial phases and seven in late-stage pre-clinical development, with some targeting liquid tumors typical of blood cancers such as multiple myeloma.
But in an announcement issued last week, Sanford Health said its Sioux Falls cancer center has become the first site in the United States to launch a clinical trial using a bioengineered VSV virus from Vyriad to destroy therapy-resistant solid tumors.
In the statement, Dr. Steven Powell, a Sanford Cancer Center medical oncologist, touted the potential of bioengineered viruses as a new front in the broad anti-cancer battle.
“Oncolytic viruses are the next wave of promising cancer immunotherapy treatments,” he said. “We are very excited about using VSV as researchers have seen promising results using other similar viruses, such as the polio virus, in early clinical trials.”
Under the trial, enrollees are given a one-time injection and then are followed for 43 days to evaluate for safety and clinical benefit. To ensure safety during this period, other anti-cancer therapies cannot be used. However, after this 43-day period, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy can be restarted.
Vyriad was founded by Russell in 2012 as Omnis Pharma, and has steadily grown with the help of an angel investment from Alvin McQuinn, founder of Jackson-based Ag-Chem Equipment Co., and now chairman and CEO of QuinStar Investment Partners.
In January 2015, it signed a lucrative licensing deal with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and its subsidiary MedImmune to study, improve and potentially commercialize its oncolytic viruses by pairing them up with the pharma’s anti-cancer immunotherapy drug candidates.
Last year, Omnis Pharma merged with another Rochester start-up, Magnis Therapeutics, to form Vyriad, and at the same time announced a strategic alliance with Baltimore-based Profectus Biosciences Inc., to develop oncolytic virus vaccines. It’s meant to further the goal of producing therapies capable of selectively destroying tumor cells while also boosting the immune systems to continue killing any residual cancer cells that may survive the initial virus dosing.