Harnessing nature to cure cancer, Vyriad turns viruses into effective anticancer drugs




Vyriad is developing the next generation of targeted cancer therapies using engineered viruses that selectively attack cancer cells and ignite robust immune responses to prevent cancer recurrence.

Its oncolytic viruses have tremendous potential to improve the lives of patients, inspire hope and change the way cancer is treated.

One reason that cancer remains one of medicine’s biggest challenges is that it is a continuously evolving disease with seemingly endless ways to evade the body’s immune defenses. But researchers at Vyriad, Inc. see potential for cures in what may seem an unlikely source: viruses.

The Rochester-based biotechnology company is a leader in the development of oncolytic or cancer killing viruses that are genetically engineered to specifically attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Highly promising preclinical animal data and early clinical results in humans show that oncolytic viruses could change the way cancer is treated.

“Viruses are nature’s last untapped bioresource,” says Stephen Russell, MD, PhD, Vyriad President and Chief Executive Officer. “We are harnessing the natural cell killing ability of viruses and turning them into effective anticancer drugs. Much work remains, but we’ve demonstrated the tremendous potential of our approach.”

Strategic Research Collaborations
Vyriad’s research has attracted major pharmaceutical companies interested in developing combination cancer therapies with its technologies. Vyriad has a major clinical research and licensing agreement with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., as well as other research collaborations with Mayo Clinic, Merck KGaA/Pfizer and leading universities and medical centers.

Vyriad currently has several clinical trials underway in patients with a wide range of cancers, including metastatic colorectal cancer and nonsmall cell lung cancer. The studies are evaluating Vyriad drug candidates as monotherapies and in combination with other cancer drugs. The company believes its best-in-class oncolytic viral platforms will become a backbone therapy for numerous cancers and ultimately may provide patients with a single shot cure. “Not every patient may be cured, but we think that there’s the potential to cure and certainly to achieve positive outcomes for many patients,” says Dr. Russell.

Scientific Approach
Oncolytic viruses turn one of cancer’s most effective survival tactics against itself. Cancers have evolved to evade the human immune system, rendering tumor cells particularly vulnerable to viral attack. Oncolytic viruses exploit this weakness by infecting cancer cells and replicating until the cells burst (lysis). Virus progeny is released, enabling the infection to propagate to other cancer cells. The destroyed cells also release tumor antigens or proteins that enable the immune system to recognize the cancer and join the fight.

Vyriad enhances the potency and precision targeting of its oncolytic viruses through genetic modification. These cancer killing viruses do not harm normal cells, pose no risk of transmission to the population, and can generate immunological memory to protect against cancer recurrence. Vyriad is currently developing two viral platforms with natural characteristics that are ideal for creating a generation of safe, trackable and effective oncolytic viruses.

The potentially life-changing oncolytic viral technologies of Vyriad are the result of decades of research. The Company has exclusive licenses to technologies discovered and validated at the Department of Molecular Medicine that Dr. Russell founded at Mayo Clinic, along with its comprehensive oncolytic virotherapy program.

Through 2020 Vyriad will evaluate new clinical data from ongoing cancer studies while continuing to enroll patients in new phase 2 clinical study with Regeneron. The data will help guide future drug development, both therapeutic combinations and target cancer indications.

Kah-Whye Peng, PhD, Chief Technology Officer, and Stephen Russell, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer

Other INNOVATE® Ecosystems