GSK becomes Vir's newest partner on COVID-19 treatments, vaccines

Vir Biotechnology is adding GlaxoSmithKline to its roster of COVID-19 partners—and snagging a $250 million investment in the process. The duo will pool their resources to develop vaccines and treatments for coronaviruses, starting with two antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the current pandemic, which could hit phase 2 studies as early as this summer.

The pair's immediate focus will be VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, a pair of antibodies identified by Vir’s monoclonal antibody technology that bind tightly to the spike protein of the novel coronavirus. They plan to move the candidates into a phase 2 clinical trial in the next three to five months—subject to regulatory review, of course.

The deal goes beyond just the current pandemic. It includes work to identify antiviral antibodies for preventive and therapeutic use in future outbreaks as well as the COVID-19 outbreak. The partners will also combine their CRISPR screening and artificial intelligence capabilities, along with GSK’s functional genomics know-how, to pinpoint new anti-coronavirus compounds. They’re looking for targets inside cells that, if inhibited, could prevent viral infection—something Vir has done with other viruses such as influenza and hepatitis B.

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Vir and GSK will also research vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses, adding to the other work the British pharma is doing in the space, including deals to provide an adjuvant to Clover Biopharmaceuticals and Xiamen Innovax Biotech to work on COVID-19 vaccines.

Vir has a number of other coronavirus-related collaborations, including manufacturing pacts with Biogen and WuXi Biologics and an expansion of its RNAi deal with Alnylam to include siRNA treatments for COVID-19. It’s also exploring the use of Generation Bio’s non-viral gene therapy platform to boost its antibody treatments against SARS-CoV-2.

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“It is becoming increasingly clear that multiple therapeutic approaches, used in combination or in sequence, will be necessary to stop this coronavirus pandemic,” Vir CEO George Scangos, Ph.D., said in a statement. “It is likely that the current coronavirus outbreak will not be the last. These insights are informing our scientific approach and we are pleased to join forces on the execution of this strategy with GSK, who have a like-minded R&D strategy, a deep expertise in vaccines and an impressive global reach to bring medicines to people around the world.”