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Using viruses to fight cancer

We find out about immuno-oncology, whereby the DNA of specific viruses is modified so they can track down the cancer cells. The viruses then either destroy the cells' structure by replicating themselv

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Using viruses to fight cancer

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This week in Business Planet, we will be finding out about a new approach that uses viruses in cancer treatment. Biotech expert Jean-Jacques Le Fur joins us to shed light on this new technique.

“The main difference between conventional treatment and this new technique is that immuno-oncology uses the body’s immune system to help fight cancerous cells,” he explains. “So we have greater efficiency, less side effects and you can use the same medication to treat different types of cancer.”

We head to Strasbourg, to the head office of French bio-tech firm Transgene, one of the firms conducting research in this burgeoning field. It designs and develops therapeutic vaccines and oncolytic viruses for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases.

The way it works is that the DNA of specific viruses is modified so they can track down the cancer cells. The viruses then either destroy the cells’ structure by replicating themselves or indirectly kill tumour cells by triggering the organism’s own immune system.

There are less side effects than with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

  • Biotechnology and life sciences are used in a variety of industrial sectors, such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, animal health, textiles, chemicals or plastics.
  • In healthcare and pharmaceutical applications, biotechnology has led to the discovery and development of advanced medicines, therapies, diagnostics, and vaccines.
  • Biotechnological breakthroughs have created new medicines for patients suffering from growth or metabolic diseases, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Innovative companies can get support from the EU under “InnovFin– the EU Finance for Innovators” initiative, backed by Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation programme.
  • InnovFin is a new generation of financial instruments and advisory services, launched by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank Group (EIB and EIF) in order to help innovative firms access finance more easily.
  • Its range of instruments comprises the Infectious Diseases Finance Facility providing financial products to innovative players active in developing vaccines, drugs, medical and diagnostic devices or novel research infrastructures for combating infectious diseases.

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“We are using re-engineered viruses to treat cancer and infectious diseases,” CEO Phillipe Archinard explains. “ More specifically, in the field of oncology we are educating the immune system to reinforce it and help it combat and kill abnormal cells like tumour cells.”

To fund the research and tests, Transgene relies on shareholders, special support from the French government and a unique loan from the EU’s InnovFin program, which supports firms conducting novel research into combating infectious diseases.

As its products are getting closer to completion, the firm’s CEO says the future is bright.

“Today, we are completing a very ambitious clinical development program. So the goal is to achieve important, meaningful clinical results – and that is going to be happening in the coming twelve months – and to translate these results into partnerships with large pharma or biotech companies.”

Our biotech specialist agrees.

“Clearly, it’s a revolution in the treatment of cancer,” says Jean-Jacques Le Fur. “It’s much more effective than chemotherapy and, in some cases, we have observed total remission.”

Such innovative R&D can revolutionize the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, but it’s a real challenge for smaller companies to carry out the research and costly clinical tests. They require specialised support.

“At an early stage, the firms generally get their funding from venture capitalists or from innovation funds,” Jean-Jacques Le Fur tells us. “Later on in the process, they can either turn to financial markets or make deals with pharmaceutical labs.”