Oncos Therapeutics: Tekes enabled patient studies for new cancer treatment

Oncos Therapeutics is an innovative Finnish company developing next generation cancer therapies based on oncolytic viruses. A staunch knowledge of oncology and a network of diversified collaborators have laid the basis for a completely new kind of cancer therapy. The company was established to commercialise the results of a research group at the University of Helsinki.

"We believe that this kind of therapy will revolutionise the field in 10—15 years. In contrast to current treatments, our method aims at a patient-specific cancer therapy, by which the patient's immune system is activated against his own cancer, and that can yield a long-term response. Side-effects seen so far have been significantly less severe than with ordinary treatments, and are mainly limited to a transient fever reaction. We are now planning for Phase II clinical studies, which are to be conducted both in the United States and Europe", says CEO Frans Wuite.

Because Finland has no risk financiers specialised in the field, Wuite finds the support from Tekes of utmost importance. Tekes support enables early stages of product development and identification of new collaboration and investment partners.

"Life science is an expertise driven industry. To start with, development of production processes for this kind of new technology is very demanding. I am proud to say that our company's know how in process development is top-notch on a global scale. We work closely together in this regard with Biovian, a Turku-based company specialised in the manufacturing of biologicals. In addition to clinical studies, our biggest initial investments have therefore been in process development and acquiring the necessary expertise. Tekes financing so far has been granted for the development of production processes and for our first clinical study", Wuite emphasises.

Going forward, however, the biggest investments will be in clinical development.

In April 2010 the Swedish capital investment company HealthCap invested four million euros in Oncos Therapeutics. HealthCap is one of the most important investors in life sciences in Europe and US. It has a long standing experience in financing companies developing novel cancer therapies world wide.

"Support from Tekes works as a merit when we seek international risk investors. We are fortunate to have HealthCap as our main shareholder and can benefit from their knowhow and networks in the field ", Wuite says.

If Finland is to achieve growth of its life science industry, it will require a significant and sustained commitment by both risk investors and domestic funding institutions.

"We have received a total of EUR 5 million in Tekes funding through its Funding for young, innovating growth companies, and Pharma programmes. With these funds we have taken the development of production of viral treatment of cancer forward and initiated our internationalisation efforts. In addition, we have received financing for our first Phase clinical study to determine a safe and effective dose level ", Wuite says.

Oncos Therapeutics was on the list of Talouselämä magazine's 20 most promising start-up companies (18 Jan. 2013) for the second consecutive year. All of the 20 companies on the most recent list were Tekes clients.

Working as principal investigator of the Phase I study has been Timo Joensuu, head physician of the Docrates Cancer Centre and the head researcher of the hospital's clinical research.

"The Phase I study aims to ascertain how well the therapy is tolerated, and what the appropriate dose level is. Key factors in product development are product quality and patient safety."

It takes several years before therapies for chronic diseases like cancer reach the market. This is because responses to treatment are measured in many patients over a long period of time to obtain reliable results.

"According to even most optimistic estimates, the earliest we can get our first product to the market will be by the end of this decade. When that happens, the treatment of cancer may undergo a disruptive change ", Wuite says with a smile.

In Phase II studies we shall test the effectiveness of our product in specific cancer types. Subsequent Phase III studies aim to confirm safety in a larger population of hundreds to thousands of patients.

The new cancer treatment is based on the virus multiplying inside cancer cells, finally killing them. When cancer cells die in this way, they expose themselves to the patient's immune system. This helps the immune system to detect and attack remaining cancer cells. In addition, the virus has been engineered to carry a code that makes cancer cells produce substances that further stimulate the immune system in its fight against cancer. The ultimate goal is to establish long-term immunity against the type of cancer. The earlier the treatment is started, the better the prognosis is expected to be.

Further information

CEO Frans Wuite
Oncos Therapeutics Ltd.
Tel. +41 79 340 8218

Text: SST Viestintä
Photo: Oncos Therapeutics