GSK, Vir end flu drug alliance, removing key piece of $345M pact

GSK is walking away from a core piece of its $345 million bet on Vir Biotechnology. The partners have ended their collaboration on anti-influenza antibodies, freeing Vir to “actively” pitch the candidates to other companies while continuing to work with GSK on different respiratory pathogens.

Vir partnered with GSK on flu three years ago. The Big Pharma paid $225 million upfront and invested $120 million in Vir to collaborate on drugs to prevent and treat flu as well as to expand a hunt for targets associated with respiratory viruses and develop antibodies against up to three other pathogens. GSK picked up an option to license the flu candidate VIR-2482 for $300 million as part of the deal.

The likelihood of GSK exercising that option plummeted in July, when Vir reported a phase 2 flop, but the collaboration kept going. That changed this week when, with the three-year research agreement coming to an end, GSK and Vir terminated the influenza portion of their collaboration.

“Vir retains sole rights to continue advancing our investigational therapies for influenza. With that in mind, we are actively pursuing external partnership opportunities for our next-generation influenza A and B antibodies and [antibody-drug conjugates],” Vir CEO Marianne De Backer, Ph.D., said on an earnings call with investors Thursday.

The biotech gave up on VIR-2482 in the aftermath of the phase 2 failure but expects to file to run a trial of its next crack at the flu virus in 12 to 24 months. Vir believes the follow-up prospect, the neuraminidase-targeting antibody VIR-2981, has the attributes to succeed where its predecessor failed.

On the call with investors, Vir Chief Medical Officer Phil Pang, M.D., Ph.D., highlighted three ways in which the drug candidate is differentiated from the failed molecule. “It targets both flu A and B, it's more potent than ‘2482 and it has a derisked mechanism of action by targeting the neuraminidase enzyme,” Pang said. 

Earlier this week, Vir revealed Pang will step down as CMO at the end of March to spend more time with his family. The biotech is now looking for Pang’s replacement. De Backer told investors Vir has “received a flood of inquiries” since it shared news of the upcoming vacancy and provided details of the criteria for choosing the next CMO.

“What is going to be really critical is for someone to have a proven track record in advancing therapies through phase 3 and having experience bringing therapeutics all the way to market. We're also looking for someone who has a really in-depth understanding of the evolving regulatory landscape, deep insights in how to use data and big data for insights into clinical development,” De Backer said.