Amgen to Acquire BioVex for Up To $1B, to Obtain Cancer-Killing Virus Therapy

1/24/11Follow @xconomy

Amgen is sticking its scientific neck out, and potentially $1 billion of its cash, to buy a company in Woburn, MA that hopes to deliver the first FDA-approved virus engineered to specifically kill cancer cells.

Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) said today it has agreed to pay $425 million upfront, plus another $575 million in additional development and sales milestones, to obtain privately-held BioVex. Amgen, which has significant research and development operations in South San Francisco, Seattle, and Cambridge, MA, said it expects to close this deal before the end of March.

BioVex, which we last wrote about in November 2009, raised $70 million in venture capital that year to carry out the final steps of development with its oncolytic virus therapy. BioVex is seeking to harness decades of science, in which researchers have sought to genetically modify viruses to replicate inside tumors, while sparing healthy tissue. Once inside, the treatment (OncoVex GM-CSF) is supposed to cause tumor cells to burst. But it doesn’t stop there—it is also designed to provoke the immune system to mount an attack in the cancerous growth itself, and hunt down any cancer cells that have spread throughout the body.

BioVex, as I noted in these pages just over a year ago, has attracted interest from scientists and investors based largely on one study of 50 patients with forms of melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, that have spread through the body. That study found that 13 of the 50 patients (26 percent) had their tumors shrink after they got the BioVex treatment.

Even more interesting, eight of the 13 initial responders had their tumors completely disappear, and their responses were long-lasting. Although patients who entered the trial had terminal diagnoses, usually giving them six to nine months to live, according to BioVex CEO Philip Astley-Sparke, more than half of the patients were alive after one year (58 percent) and two years (52 percent), according to data presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June 2009. Side effects were mostly mild-to-moderate flu-like symptoms, researchers said.

The company is now in the midst of gathering more proof from a Phase III clinical trial which, if successful, could be the basis for it to win FDA approval of the first such oncolytic virus therapy. BioVex is running a trial expected to enroll as many as 430 patients, according to a posting on clinicaltrials.gov. The goal will be to show the BioVex drug offers an advantage in tumor shrinkage … Next Page »

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