Virus as Viable Drug - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Virus as Viable Drug
Coincidence or phenomena? The reovirus is Mother Nature's own cancer-killer.

Pharmaceutical Executive


We recently announced a combination study in the United Kingdom with [Lilly's] Gemzar (gemcitabine) for lung and pancreatic cancer patients. So we'll be the lung and pancreatic cancer company if we focus on the Gemzar combination. Or the head and neck, esophageal, or B-cell lymphoma company if we carry on with radiation studies. We can then generate the numbers that will tell us which pivotal studies are the most compelling.

What are the biggest challenges you face going into Phase II?

We're going to be enrolling more patients in 2007 than we've enrolled in the last six years total. And in 2008, again we'll be enrolling more patients than we've enrolled up to that date. For now, it's a clinical management issue. Instead of having two or three sites running clinical studies, we're going to have 40 or 50.

How do you think virus research is changing the understanding of human disease?

You're going to find viruses and bacteria have links with a great number of diseases. Just look at Gardasil, which is now about to become a multibillion dollar drug to vaccinate people against cervical cancer. It's going to eliminate virtually all cervical cancers. I think we will also find that inflammation is probably triggered by a lot of things, including bacterial and viral infections.

Are there other viruses that work as drugs?

There's hundreds of them. The reovirus is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to benign viruses.

Some people are doing research on other natural oncolytic viruses. The Newcastle virus has been under investigation since the '60s. Nobody really knows how Newcastle works, but it's kind of a cult virus. There are clinics in Germany that import it illegally from Hungary—but it has problems because of that.

There's also a group in Japan that is researching co-therapy with reovirus in animal models. Now, there is no regulatory agency on this planet today that will allow you to simultaneously infect a human being with two viruses in a clinical trial, until one or the other or both are approved. But it'll happen.

Oncolytics went public early. Why?

Canadian companies don't really have a venture capital community or a private equity community. And so Canadian companies typically do a small round or two and go public way too early, and we were like that too. In Canada, the only way to raise money is to be a public company. If I had my druthers, we'd be going public now, not six years ago.

But that's just because of the state of the market in Canada. In the US market, companies can stay private a lot longer because there's private equity and other sources that will encourage that, and you to focus on your business rather than going public.

And now that you can increasingly sell biotechs to bigger audiences, like big and medium pharma, you're starting to see a slight shift toward staying private. Companies will stay private so they can get a better evaluation, and don't have to go through the hassles and expense of being a public company, which are increasingly a burden.

At this point, does the company still need to raise capital?

Oh, endlessly. That's biotech. Biotech has perfected the art of spending money more efficiently than any industry on the planet, except possibly the fusion research and the fuel cell research guys.

That's because our business model isn't to become profitable; it's to become partnered or sold. There are outliers—like Amgen—but that's not the business model for the biotech industry.


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