Pfizer Research Partnership to Advance Oncolytic Virus Technology


Pfizer Inc. and immune-oncology startup, Western Oncolytics tied up in a “development collaboration” and exclusive “license option” agreement for the advancement of the Western oncolytics’ novel, oncolytic vaccinia virus named, WO-12.

western oncolytics pfizerOncolytic viruses are the engineered viruses which identify and kill cancer cells and leave the healthy cells which later strengthen anti-cancer immune responses against various types of cancers. WO-12 is an investigational, oncolytic virus which can act as an in vivo vaccine, administered intravenously or intratumorally (directly injecting in the tumor).

According to the deal, Pfizer and Western Oncolytics will work together on the preclinical and clinical development of WO-12 through Phase I trials. After this, Pfizer has an exclusive option to acquire WO-12. The financial details are not yet disclosed. WO-12 is currently in its preclinical stage.

James Merson, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer, Vaccine Immunotherapeutics at Pfizer said “Our goal is to combine WO-12 with our portfolio of promising investigational immunotherapies to explore how these novel combinations could help further enhance the body’s immune response in fighting cancer cells. We believe that the real advances in immuno-oncology will come from novel combinations, and cancer fighting viruses and vaccines could play a key role in helping transform cancer treatment and potentially enable us to treat more patients.”

Mechanism of Action

The virus was experimented against kidney cancer cells in mice, where the results showed significant results. The virus was designed to behave like the cancer cells and deliver the therapeutic genes into the body to enhance the anti-cancer immune response.

This video explains the molecular mechanism of WO-12 (video credit: Kurt Rote).

The team of Western oncolytics incorporated TRIF (activate cytotoxic T cells which help in killing cancer cells) and HPGD (support the actions of the T cells by taking out immunosuppressors) genes in the virus after removing the genes which will be considered as foreign by the immune system. This virus after the genetic modification can easily enter the healthy cell without being attacked by the immune system. The specialty of the virus is that on encountering a healthy cell, it will modify itself as a dormant cell thereby protecting the healthy cell.

But when exposed to cancer cells, the virus will start replicating and increasing in number until it kills the host cancer cells. Progressively, the elimination will continue until the tumor shrinks or reduction in the tumor cells is observed. The lysed cells will help to build an adaptive immune response which in future can help the patient’s body to recognize and eliminate the cancer cells.

Finally, the artificially engineered, WO-12 will be removed by the immune system over time without causing any side effects during or after the completion of the process.

With this collaboration, Pfizer and Western Oncolytics have a chance to bring a new dimension to immuno-oncology therapeutics and change the course of regular cancer treatments.

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