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

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that lasts six months or more, compared to an immune-boosting compound.

“OncoVex has demonstrated encouraging anti-tumor activity in clinical studies for the treatment of melanoma and head and neck cancer, and BioVex is currently enrolling patients into pivotal Phase 3 trials in both indications,” said Roger Perlmutter, Amgen’s executive vice president of R&D, in a statement. “Amgen is particularly excited about joining with BioVex and its talented staff to focus on advancing this late-stage investigational therapy, with the hope of bringing it to market within the next few years.”

No one has ever developed such an oncolytic virus treatment for cancer, although many, such as South San Francisco-based Cell Genesys, have tried before. While BioVex may have the candidate most advanced in clinical trials at the moment, it’s not the only company generating new interest in the field. San Francisco-based Jennerex Biotherapeutics, led by a veteran of the early days at Emeryville, CA-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals, is also hot on the trail. So is Calgary, Canada-based Oncolytics Biotech.

Amgen has been pushing for years to become a bigger player in anti-tumor drug development, after making its fortune largely on treating some of the side effects of cancer chemotherapy. It won FDA approval in 2006 for panitumumab (Vectibix), and saw limited success. Last year, it followed that up with an FDA clearance of denosumab (Xgeva) as a treatment for bone-related tumors. We’ll find out soon enough whether this new bet on oncolytic viral therapy puts Amgen on the leading edge of a new field of science, or ends up being a costly debacle.

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  • There is definitely an element of irony here. For years Amgen’s G-CSF (Neupogen) dominated the white blood cell stimulator market against Immunex’s GM-CSF (Leukine). Amgen was forced to divest Leukine when it acquired Immunex in 2002. Now, in a sense, it is reacquiring GM-CSF (yes, in another form) after many years of convincing doctors that G-CSF was the superior drug.

  • maria georgiou