Houston-based biopharmaceutical company AlloVir (formerly known as ViraCyte) recently announced $120 million in Series B funding. Fidelity Management and Research Company led the deal. Participating investors include Gilead Sciences, F2 Ventures, Invus, Leerink Partners, Redmile Group, EcoR1 Capital, and Samsara BioCapital.
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AlloVir is also the first venture to publicly join the portfolio of ElevateBio, a recently-launched Cambridge, MA-based company which aims to advise and assist cell and gene therapy upstarts throughout the discovery, development, and commercialization lifecycle. Earlier this month, ElevateBio announced it raised $150 million in venture funding led by UBS Oncology Impact Fund. AlloVir financiers Samsara BioCapital, Redmile Group, and EcoR1 Capital also back ElevateBio.
According to a press release published by ElevateBio on Wednesday, AlloVir “is a leading innovator in allogenic, off-the-shelf, multi-virus specific T-cell immunotherapies.” What does that mean?
Let’s break it down:1
- “Allogenic,” meaning, basically, that biological material used to create the company’s treatments are sourced from (compatible) donors, rather than from the patient themselves.
- “Off-the-shelf,” in this specific case, means that AlloVir’s products could be integrated into a treatment regime immediately, sitting in storage in the meantime. In the context of T-cell therapeutics (which we’ll get to in a moment), a treatment wouldn’t be “off the shelf” if it required sampling, modifying, and culturing cells from the patient.
- Jumping out of order a bit: T cells are a foundational part of the human immune system. There are many types of T cells, all of which play specific roles in responding to infection. Cancer patients, HIV positive people, transplant recipients, people with chronic infections, people with autoimmune diseases, or other immuno-suppressed populations have lower counts of these key cells. This makes them more susceptible to infection and illness.
- According to AlloVir, its primary T cell therapy offering, Viralym-M (ALVR105), can target six different viral pathogens, including: BK virus (which can affect kidney transplant patients), cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis, aka “mono”), JC virus, and human herpesvirus 6. Preliminary research findings on the company’s next therapy, ALVR106, which “targets four common and devastating community-acquired respiratory viruses” were published in the journal Haematologica last month.
So, basically, AlloVir is in the business of sourcing and training immune cells from healthy donors to fight viral infections in folks with compromised immune systems.
AlloVir’s therapies are still in clinical trials. The company published results from its Phase 2 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, finding that 93 percent of treated patience “demonstrated a clinical response (or met clinical response criteria) following treatment with Viralym-M.” ElevateBio CEO David Hallal told Xconomy that AlloVir will start Phase 3 trials of Viralym-M in 2020.
AlloVir’s as-yet-unnamed ALVR106—targeting respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, parainfluenza virus, and human metapneumovirus—is expected to enter the first phase of clinical trials within the next 12 months, according to coverage in Biospace.
This latest funding round brings AlloVir’s total backing to at least $159 million. The company (which at the time was still called ViraCyte) filed a Form D with the SEC in September 2018. The regulatory filing disclosed the company closed at least $30 million out of a targeted $50 million funding round. It’s unclear whether ViraCyte has closed the remaining $20 million from that round. Prior to that deal, the company raised $8.99 million in grant funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias
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