Biogen—the biotech giant at the center of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts—will partner with Vir Biotechnology to advance the development and clinical manufacturing of Vir’s human monoclonal antibodies as potential treatments for COVID-19, Vir said today.

The companies have signed a letter of intent, under which Biogen has agreed to carry out cell line development, process development, and clinical manufacturing activities for Vir while they negotiate a formal Clinical Development and Manufacturing Agreement.

The value of the planned agreement has not been disclosed.

Vir said it has identified “a number” of monoclonal antibodies that bind to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which were isolated from individuals who had survived a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) infection.

Those antibodies were identified through Vir’s antibody platform, which is designed to identify rare antibodies from survivors that could treat and prevent rapidly evolving and/or previously untreatable pathogens via direct pathogen neutralization and immune system stimulation. Vir engineers the fully human antibodies that it discovers, with the aim of enhancing their therapeutic potential.

Vir said it has used its platform to identify and develop antibodies for pathogens including hepatitis B virus, influenza A, malaria, and others—including Ebola, for which Vir has developed the monoclonal antibody mAb114, which is now in use in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Vir added that it is conducting research to determine if its antibodies, or additional antibodies it may be able to identify, can effectively treat and/or protect against SARS-CoV-2.

“These exceptional circumstances presented by the threat of COVID-19 require that we work with great urgency in the interest of the public good,” Vir president and CEO George Scangos, PhD, who was previously CEO of Biogen, said in a statement.

COVID-19 collaborations

The Biogen partnership is VIR’s third COVID-19 related collaboration announced in the past three weeks. Vir yesterday said it will partner with the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Vaccine Research Center (VRC) to identify and optimize combinations of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, as well as antibodies that may be effective across additional types of coronaviruses.

And on February 25, Vir announced a development and manufacturing collaboration With WuXi Biologics to advance and produce human monoclonal antibodies as potential treatments for COVID-19. Should the antibodies receive regulatory approvals, WuXi Biologics has rights to commercialize therapies in Greater China and Vir, in all other markets worldwide.

Vir’s partnership with WuXi Biologics is among “Top 35 Treatments in Development” for COVID-19 highlighted by GEN in an A-List published March 2. An updated version of the list will be published in coming days.

“Biogen is one of the global leaders in cell line and process development for advanced biologics; tapping into their capabilities will provide us with a U.S. base for supply and manufacture of antibody therapies,” added Scangos, who earlier this month was named by the industry group Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO)  to lead its Coronavirus Initiative, coordinating industry efforts to partner with government agencies and non-governmental organizations or NGOs in fighting COVID-19.

Biogen has ordered all its employees to work from home until further notice, after employees who attended a management meeting in Boston late last month tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

As of late Wednesday, 77 of Massachusetts’ 95 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and another 12 confirmed cases from outside the Bay State, were people who attended the February 26-27 meeting, which was held at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel and attended by approximately 175 people. Biogen employs about 7,500 worldwide.

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