Scangos recruits Washington University prof Virgin for Vir CSO role

Virgin's expertise lies in the relationships between pathogens and the immune system.

George Scangos has lined up top-tier scientific leadership for his new venture Vir Biotechnology, enticing eminent infectious disease and immunology specialist Herbert W. “Skip” Virgin M.D., Ph.D., from his current position at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

Virgin is known for his expertise in teasing out the relationships between pathogens and the immune system, with a particular emphasis on viral diseases but also covering bacterial and parasitic infections.

Former Biogen CEO Scangos—who has headed the Fierce15 company since it emerged in January—said Virgin is “an internationally renowned scientist and leader who has made major contributions to the field of immunology and infectious diseases.”

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“His vision and passion for science will be invaluable to Vir as we pursue our mission of transforming the care of people with serious infectious diseases.”

Virgin will assume the twin roles of executive vice president of research and chief scientific officer on Jan. 1. The R&D role at Vir has been fulfilled to date by ex-Vertex Pharma executive Vicki Sato, who will now focus on her other role as chairman of the company.

Trained at Harvard University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, for more than a decade Virgin has been the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor and head of the department of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine, which has been recognized for pioneering work in immunobiology.

His background in the use of genetic, structural, computational and sequencing methods to understand viral pathogenesis and immunity dovetails with Vir’s focus on using immune programming to manipulate the processes by which pathogens interact with the hosts they infect.

The biotech intends to target three areas: chronic infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, tuberculosis and HIV; viral respiratory diseases; and infections acquired in healthcare settings. Vir bought a portfolio of 15 antibody candidates at a stroke recently when it acquired Swiss biotech Humabs BioMed.

License deals with Visterra for another six antibodies—including an option on a candidate for influenza A in phase 2—and with Alnylam for up to five RNA interference candidates headed by a hepatitis B drug, have also fleshed out Vir’s pipeline.

When Vir first burst onto the scene—backed with a $150 million war chest from ARCH Venture Partners and another undisclosed block of cash from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—Scangos said the aim is to take on “some of the world's most challenging infectious diseases for which solutions are nonexistent or inadequate.”

The startup said last month it has amassed financing of $500 million to date and expects to move several compounds into clinical development in the next year and a half.