George Scangos, CEO of Vir Biotechnology

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will invest $250 million in Vir Biotechnology as part of an R&D collaboration designed to advance COVID-19 candidates into Phase II clinical trials later this year, the companies said today.

The companies agreed to identify new anti-viral antibodies, and study existing ones, to prevent and treat COVID-19 and future coronavirus outbreaks using Vir’s proprietary monoclonal antibody platform technology and GSK’s expertise in functional genomics.

Initially, the companies will focus on accelerating development of two antibody candidates identified by Vir’s platform, VIR-7831 and VIR-7832. Both have demonstrated high affinity for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and are highly potent in neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 in live virus-cellular assays, according to Vir.

Subject to regulatory review, GSK and Vir plan to proceed directly into Phase II trials within the next three to five months.

“Vir’s unique antibody platform has precedented success in identifying and developing antibodies as treatments for multiple pathogens, and it is highly complementary with our R&D approach to focus on the science of immunology,” Hal Barron, MD, GSK’s chief scientific officer and president of R&D, said in a statement. “I am very excited that the talent and passion of our two companies will come together to develop solutions for multiple diseases, including the very promising antibody candidates targeting COVID-19.”

GSK and Vir also agreed to:

  • Research vaccines designed to prevent SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses by coupling GSK’s vaccines technologies and expertise with Vir’s ability to identify neutralizing epitopes that are present across entire viral families.
  • Combine their expertise in CRISPR screening and artificial intelligence to identify products based on genome-wide CRISPR screening of host targets expressed in connection with exposure to SARS-CoV-2, as well as

Vir agreed to bear 72.5% of the development costs for the antibody program, 27.5% of the development costs for the vaccine program, and equally split the development costs for the functional genomics program, Vir disclosed in a regulatory filing.

The vaccine research effort, GSK added, will be in addition to the company’s other initiatives to develop a potential vaccine for COVID-19.

“It is likely that the current coronavirus outbreak will not be the last,” Vir CEO George Scangos, PhD, said in a statement. “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.”

Fourth COVID-19 collaboration

The GSK alliance is Vir’s fourth COVID-19-focused collaboration announced since February. On March 12, Vir and Biogen launched a partnership to advance the development and clinical manufacturing of Vir’s human monoclonal antibodies as potential treatments for the novel coronavirus. Scangos was previously CEO of Biogen before joining Vir in January 2017.

A day earlier, Vir partnered with the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and 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 earlier partnerships were among Top 60 Treatments in Development for COVID-19 highlighted by GEN in an A-List published March 18. An updated version of the list will be published in coming days.

GSK’s equity investment in Vir will be priced at $37.73 a share, a 30% premium to Vir’s closing share price Friday of $29.00.

The equity investment and collaboration agreement will complete at the same time and are conditional upon regulatory review under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act and other customary conditions.

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