Biotech team behind Viralytics launches new venture

Photo: Professor Darren Shafren, ImmVirX

The team behind Viralytics, which was bought in 2018 for a record $502 million in one of the biggest biotech deals in Australian history, is reuniting for a new private venture aiming to develop cutting-edge cancer therapies.

The company, ImmVirX, will build a body of pre-clinical and manufacturing data ahead of a substantial capital-raising venture within 12 months, followed by early stage clinical evaluation.

The team will be based in the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) Building, and support from the University of Newcastle Research Associates (TUNRA) will assist with its commercialisation objectives.

Professor Darren Shafren, from the University of Newcastle, is the chief scientific officer and Dr Malcolm McColl has been reappointed as managing director and CEO.

“It’s a similar strategy to the one we employed with Viralytics, using a selected virus to increase the efficacy of the new immune checkpoint inhibitors when treating tumours,” Professor Darren Shafren, ImmVirX’s chief scientific officer, said.

“But where we previously targeted melanoma, ImmVirX will focus on colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, head and neck cancer, and liver cancer. We want to develop RNA viruses that will induce subtle changes within the tumour and enhance the therapies.”

The research team has already begun investigating several potential viral candidates that target different receptor molecules than that of Cavatak, the oncolytic virus developed by Viralytics.

“We had some exciting times at Viralytics where we saw our research translate into real clinical benefits, and that’s what we’re hoping to achieve again,” Shafren said.

“Viruses have been studying our immune system much longer than we’ve been studying them, of course, and we firmly believe that immune therapies will be the backbone of future oncology treatments.

“The support from the University and HMRI provides us with great expertise and facilities to really hit the ground running. To work with TUNRA again after the success of Viralytics was an easy decision to make. We know the value it can provide, and it’s a formula that’s worked for us previously when looking to take things to market.”