Ex-Biogen boss Scangos lands at newly launched infectious disease upstart

It didn’t take George Scangos very long to find a new role after leaving Biogen as he starts 2017 as the head of a new upstart: Vir Biotechnology.

The California-based company, which publicly launches today, says it aims to take on a “new approach” to tackling the oft-forgotten area of infectious diseases.

It says in a statement that it plans to take on “some of the world's most challenging infectious diseases for which solutions are non-existent or inadequate.”

Its new way is to use “breakthroughs in immune programming” to manipulate pathogen-host interactions. The company will take a multiprogram, multiplatform approach to this, although exact details at this early stage were not given.

It did say however that it was “adopting a broad technological portfolio” that will include the viral vectors obtained through the acquisition of TomegaVax.

These technologies were originally developed by a team at Oregon Health & Science University, led by Louis Picker and Klaus Frueh. Vir’s own lab work will be across the U.S. in San Francisco, Boston and Portland, Oregon. 

Big ideas, and big backers: Its lead investors include ARCH Venture Partners as well as the deep pockets of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Vir is the brainchild of Robert Nelsen, co-founder ARCH, which has committed to invest $150 million on its own, a remarkable sum for such a young company.

Nelsen said in the statement: “The scale and scope we envision for Vir will allow us to fund targeted academic research, ramp our own research and development efforts, and write individual checks of up to $100 million to in-license innovative technology platforms and novel clinical assets from biotech and pharmaceutical companies.”

The now-reemployed Scangos added: “The opportunity to lead Vir is one I could not pass up. There is a tremendous global need for effective therapies and preventions for infectious diseases of considerable public health importance. Success would mean alleviation of a lot of human suffering as well as meaningful financial returns for Vir investors. The science has matured to a point where exciting new approaches are at hand, and there is a need for a company to pursue those approaches with excellence, critical mass and scale. Vir is that company, and I am very excited to take on a leadership role.”