Robert Coffin, CEO of Replimune, pioneers the first oncolytic immunotherapy

  • Robert Coffin, CEO of Replimune, is widely recognized as a pioneering figure in the field of oncolytic immunotherapy, leading innovative efforts that are transforming cancer treatment.
  • Robert Coffin’s invention of T-VEC has revolutionised the approach to cancer treatment, highlighting the potential of oncolytic viruses as powerful tools in the fight against cancer.

Robert Coffin is the co-founder and CEO of Replimune. Previously he was the Founder & CTO of BioVex Inc., Robert Coffin stands as a prominent figure in the field of biotechnology, celebrated for his groundbreaking work in cancer treatment. He is the inventor of Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC), the first oncolytic immunotherapy approved for treating cancer.

Early career and education

Robert Coffin’s academic journey commenced with his undergraduate studies, during which he likely delved into foundational concepts in virology and other related fields. This early education would have equipped him with a solid understanding of the principles governing viral behaviour and interactions within biological systems.

Coffin’s pursuit of a PhD in virology at Imperial College London signifies a significant commitment to advancing his expertise in this specialised area of study. The rigorous research and training involved in obtaining a doctoral degree would have provided him with in-depth knowledge and practical skills essential for conducting scientific investigations in virology.

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Throughout his doctoral research, Coffin likely immersed himself in exploring the intricacies of virus behaviour and mechanisms of viral replication, transmission, and pathogenesis. This research would have laid the foundation for his future endeavours in applying virology to therapeutic applications, particularly in the development of innovative oncolytic virus platforms for cancer treatment.

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Career highlights

Founding BioVex Inc.: In 1999, Robert Coffin co-founded BioVex Inc., a company specialising in the development of oncolytic viruses for cancer treatment. This venture emerged from his research group at University College London, underscoring his entrepreneurial drive to translate scientific discoveries into clinical solutions.

Development of OncoVEXGM-CSF (T-VEC): At BioVex, Coffin led the development of OncoVEXGM-CSF, later named T-VEC or Imlygic. Coffin and his team modified HSV-1 by deleting specific viral genes that normally inhibit the immune response and inserting the gene for granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). This modification allowed the virus to not only lyse cancer cells but also to produce GM-CSF, a protein that boosts the immune system’s ability to attack tumours.

T-VEC works by being injected directly into melanoma lesions, where it replicates inside the cancer cells, causing them to burst and die. The release of tumour antigens from the lysed cells, along with the presence of GM-CSF, helps to stimulate a systemic anti-tumour immune response. T-VEC is engineered from the herpes simplex virus and designed to selectively replicate in cancer cells, causing their destruction while stimulating an immune response against the tumour.

FDA approval and clinical advancements: BioVex initiated several clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of T-VEC. Phase II trials in melanoma patients showed promising results, leading to a larger Phase III trial. The pivotal OPTiM trial demonstrated that T-VEC significantly improved durable response rates in patients with advanced melanoma compared to a control treatment of GM-CSF alone. These successful trials paved the way for regulatory approval.

In 2011, Amgen acquired BioVex for $1 billion, continuing the development of T-VEC under Coffin’s guidance. The therapy was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2015, becoming the first oncolytic virus therapy approved in the United States. Subsequently, it received approval from the European Medicines Agency in December 2015.

Role at Amgen: Following the acquisition of BioVex by Amgen in 2011, Robert Coffin continued to contribute to the development of T-VEC as Vice President of Global Development. His role at Amgen included integrating T-VEC into the company’s broader oncology portfolio and expanding its clinical applications.

Leadership at Replimune

In 2015, Robert Coffin co-founded Replimune with a focus on advancing the field of oncolytic immunotherapy. Replimune aims to develop enhanced oncolytic viruses capable of delivering therapeutic payloads and eliciting robust immune responses against cancer.

Under Coffin’s leadership, Replimune has emerged as a trailblazer in the field by pioneering the development of enhanced oncolytic viruses that have the ability to deliver therapeutic payloads directly to cancer cells. By harnessing the power of these viruses, Replimune aims to stimulate robust immune responses within the tumor microenvironment, leading to improved treatment outcomes for patients.

Coffin and his team at Replimune are actively exploring novel strategies to enhance virus specificity, improve tumor penetration, and augment immune activation to maximize the efficacy of their therapies. This dedication to innovation and cutting-edge research has positioned Replimune as a key player in the development of next-generation cancer treatments.

Through its robust research pipeline, Replimune is developing a diverse range of therapies that are specifically designed to target a broad spectrum of cancers, offering new hope for patients battling various types of the disease. With a strong emphasis on scientific excellence and a commitment to advancing the field of oncolytic immunotherapy, Replimune continues to push the boundaries of innovation in the fight against cancer under Robert Coffin’s leadership.

Impact on oncology and beyond

Legacy of innovation: Robert Coffin’s journey highlights the importance of perseverance, innovation, and a willingness to challenge conventional thinking in scientific and medical research. His success with T-VEC and ongoing efforts at Replimune underscore the transformative impact that visionary leaders can have on advancing novel therapies that benefit patients worldwide.

Inspiration for future generations: Coffin’s story serves as an inspiration for aspiring scientists and entrepreneurs who are passionate about pushing the boundaries of medical science. His ability to translate scientific discovery into tangible therapies has set a precedent for innovation in biotechnology and continues to influence the development of new treatment modalities for cancer and other diseases.

Robert Coffin’s story is not only a testament to scientific ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit but also a reminder of the profound impact that individuals can have on shaping the future of healthcare through perseverance, visionary thinking, and a commitment to improving patient outcomes.


Jinny Xu

Jinny Xu is an intern reporter at Blue Tech Wave specialising in Fintech and AI. She graduated from Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies.Send tips to

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