New Vir CEO makes her mark, dropping small-molecule platform to 'judiciously' use $1.9B war chest

Vir Biotechnology is narrowing its focus. Sitting on $1.9 billion, the infectious disease specialist has decided to stop work on its innate immunity small-molecule platform as part of its efforts to “judiciously allocate” its capital.

San Francisco-based Vir was already primarily focused on biologics, making its name through work on the anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody Xevudy and advancing a pipeline featuring other modalities including T-cell vaccines and siRNAs. But small molecules were in the mix, too, with the biotech identifying the modality as part of its plans for a multi-respiratory hepatitis B cure and response to COVID-19.

Now, just months into her tenure as CEO, Marianne De Backer, Ph.D., has pulled the plug on the small-molecule work. De Backer explained the decision to discontinue innate immunity small-molecule work and focus on Vir’s antibody platform on a quarterly results call with investors.

“We are taking measures to continuously evaluate and judiciously allocate this capital to maximize value for our shareholders,” De Backer said. “ As part of this process and under my leadership, we made the decision to phase out our small molecule platform. This is the first step as we continue to advance our core capabilities and scientific programs.” 

Vir decided to stop work on the small-molecule platform last month. July at the company was defined by the failure of the influenza A-neutralizing monoclonal antibody candidate VIR-2482 in a midphase clinical trial. The setback sent Vir’s stock down 40%.

Phil Pang, M.D., Ph.D., chief medical officer at Vir, discussed the failed trial on the second-quarter results conference call, telling investors that, while the team is still analyzing the data, it is “not going to be embarking on a phase 3.” Vir retains an interest in flu, though. Attention now turns to VIR-2981, a preclinical candidate that covers influenza A and B, differentiating it from the failed program.

“In some animal models, it has shown markedly greater potency,” Pang said. “Because VIR-2981 has a different mechanism of action, targeting the enzymatic activity of the neuraminidase, not the stem of a hemagglutinin, we believe in its potential to prevent influenza illness.”