Last year, Big Pharma GlaxoSmithKline and George Scangos’ biotech Vir joined forces against COVID-19. Now, the pair is turning its crosshairs on a broader range of respiratory diseases.
In 2020, the pair penned a deal to develop an antibody against SARS-CoV-02, though the companies are behind in development terms compared to the likes of Eli Lilly and Regeneron, both of which have treatments that were given emergency clearance from the FDA in recent months.
While COVID-19 clearly remains a priority, and their hopeful is making its way through to mid- to late-stage tests, the companies have decided to broaden their original pact by adding other respiratory diseases.
Under the boosted collab, GSK nabs exclusive rights to work with Fierce 15 winner Vir on new antibodies for the flu. These include VIR-2482, which is designed to create universal influenza A protection and has finished off a phase 1 trial, as well as next-generation antibodies for the prevention or treatment of influenza during a three-year research period.
GSK will have the exclusive option to co-develop VIR-2482 after Vir completes and reports midstage data and will share development costs on the development of all other influenza monoclonal antibodies.
Other pharmas have struggled to create a universal vaccine for the flu, which shifts and mutates every season, evading previous shots, but GSK and Vir hope a protective antibody approach may yield better results.
On top of this, the pair will also expand its current functional genomics collab, which focused on potential pan-coronavirus therapeutics, to now include other respiratory virus targets. They will in addition work on developing up to three neutralizing monoclonal antibodies via Vir’s antibody platform to target non-influenza pathogens, which will happen over a three-year research period.
The financials break down like this: GSK is making an upfront payment of $225 million, wedded with an equity investment in Vir of $120 million.
Initially, Vir will continue to fund VIR-2482 through completion of phase 2 trials, but if GSK presses go on its option for the drug, it will pay an option fee of $300 million. On top of this, and for each other program in the expanded collaboration, both will share costs and profits.
GSK is also on the hook for $200 million to Vir based on the “successful delivery of pre-defined regulatory milestones,” through these aren’t detailed.
This comes after GSK and Sanofi hit a major roadblock in their attempt to create a COVID-19 vaccine when weak data forced the pair late last year to rethink the antigen formulation. The setback is expected to delay the availability of the vaccine from mid-2021 to year-end.
But GSK is still determined to fight on, and, a month back—adding to this new Vir deal—it handed German biotech and COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer CureVac £234 million ($294 million) to collaborate on the use of mRNA to prevent and treat infectious diseases. The deal, which excludes CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine, sets GSK up to source up to five clinical-phase mRNA-based vaccines and monoclonal antibodies.
Before COVID-19, it’s unlikely this kind of deal would have come about: Infectious disease research has long fallen out of fashion, though some pharmas, including, it should be said, GSK and Vir, have kept the faith in this R&D area. The pandemic has, however, lit a fire under vaccine and infectious treatment research, given how swiftly the world was blindsided by COVID-19.
While flu has globally been at historically low levels, thanks mainly to a high uptake of flu vaccines and lockdowns along with high levels of hygiene that have starved the virus of hosts, there is no doubt it will be back when COVID-19 is under control. GSK and Vir hope to be ready when it does.
“We believe, now more than ever, that it is very important to develop new therapies to treat and ideally prevent infectious diseases,” said Hal Barron, M.D., chief scientific officer and president of R&D at GSK.
“I am delighted that we are expanding our collaboration with Vir whose focus on novel antibodies, expertise in functional genomics, unique technology and talented scientists will further strengthen GSK’s position as a world leader in infectious diseases.”
“GSK has been a valuable strategic partner and scientific collaborator in the fight against COVID-19,” added George Scangos, Ph.D., CEO at Vir.
“As part of our functional genomics collaboration directed at COVID-19, we have turned up multiple targets that have the potential to treat influenza and other respiratory viruses, and it makes sense to extend the scope of our collaboration to include these new targets.
“This expanded collaboration supports the rapid advancement of multiple promising investigational compounds in our pipeline, increasing the likelihood that these potential life-saving treatments will reach patients sooner, and will advance our shared goal of developing single drugs that can address multiple ‘bugs.’”