Developing a virus-based immunotherapy to defeat cancer

There have been major developments in cancer treatment in recent years. However, treatment of advanced, metastasized tumours remains challenging, and still requires search for new solutions. Valo Therapeutics is currently developing an oncolytic virus-based immunotherapy that is scheduled to enter clinical trials in upcoming years.

Valo Therapeutics is a young start-up company that was founded in 2016 by the University of Helsinki. The company has a total of seven employees in Finland and England.

Antti Vuolanto, the Chief Operating Officer of Valo Therapeutics, remarks that the characteristics of the company are unique. Even though the company is young, it employs an experienced team with strong contacts to research institutions, research organizations, and financiers – both in Finland and abroad.

The entire Valo Therapeutics team in Finland has previously worked at Oncos Therapeutics, a Finnish company developing oncolytic virus treatments. Oncos was subsequently sold to Norwegian company Targovax in 2015. Additionally, Vuolanto himself has already worked for four different Finnish bioscience start-ups. “With such an extensive experience as a starting point, we have exceptionally intense pressure to succeed”, Vuolanto reflects.

Phase I clinical trials at sight

The immunotherapy developed by Valo Therapeutics is based on an invention by the scientific founder of the company, University of Helsinki associate professor Vincenzo Cerullo. The PeptiCRAd technology developed by Cerullo educates the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Oncolytic adenoviruses awaken the body’s natural immune responses. Protein structures on the surface of the virus – cancer antigens – elicit a vaccine-like immune reaction that is selectively targeted against cancer cells.

The company’s main focus is to proceed into phase I clinical trials. If the development of the viral therapy stays on schedule, the first patients will be recruited by the beginning of 2019. Successful clinical trials would allow the utilization of the viral treatment for multiple different solid cancer types.

“The clinical trials will be conducted as combination treatments, meaning that the viral therapy is given together with check point inhibitors, a novel and very promising type of cancer drugs”, Vuolanto specifies.

The company is now actively seeking funding in order to proceed to phase I trials. Phase II and III trials will likely be conducted by licensing or in collaboration with a large pharmaceutical company. Vuolanto believes that the international investors will continue to support the company, enabling the further development of the operations and technology in Finland.

Common forum for start-up companies in the Helsinki metropolitan area

According to Vuolanto, collaboration is seamless in the Helsinki metropolitan area: “Valo Therapeutics has outsourced and will outsource many of its practical operations, such as virus production, clinical trials and patient sample analysis.”

Valo Therapeutics already has various collaborative laboratories at the University of Helsinki, but also aims at conducting clinical trials in Finnish research institutions.

The rise of Finnish bioindustry has long been on the horizon, and it finally looks like success stories are being written. Vuolanto wishes life science and health technology start-ups in the Helsinki metropolitan area would have a common forum for regular conversations with other operators in the field, and for discussing exciting projects. Instead of seminars, Vuolanto would happily interrupt his busy schedule for a monthly lunch meeting with other start-up company members.

Helsinki University News: Valo Therapeutics receives $4.6 million funding to accelerate development of a novel oncolytic virus-based cancer immunotherapy