LONDON & SAN FRANCISCO—GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) and Vir Biotechnology Inc. announced in April that they have signed a binding agreement to enter into a collaboration to research and develop solutions for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The collaboration will use Vir’s proprietary monoclonal antibody platform technology to accelerate existing and identify new antiviral antibodies that could be used as therapeutic or preventative options to help address the current COVID-19 pandemic and future outbreaks. The companies will leverage GSK’s proficiency in functional genomics and combine their capabilities in CRISPR screening and artificial intelligence to identify anti-coronavirus compounds that target cellular host genes. They will also apply their combined expertise to research SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus vaccines.
“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,” said Dr. Hal Barron, chief scientific officer and president of R&D for GSK. “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.”
Because of the urgent patient need for COVID-19 solutions, the initial focus of the collaboration will be to accelerate the development of specific antibody candidates identified by the Vir platform, VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, that 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. Subject to regulatory review, the companies plan to proceed directly into a Phase 2 clinical trial within the next three to five months.
The companies have also agreed to conduct research into SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus vaccines by coupling GSK’s vaccines technologies and experience with Vir’s ability to identify neutralizing epitopes that are present across entire viral families.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that multiple therapeutic approaches, used in combination or in sequence, will be necessary to stop this coronavirus pandemic. It is likely that the current coronavirus outbreak will not be the last,” noted Dr. George Scangos, CEO of Vir Biotechnology.
In addition, to gain access to Vir’s technology, GSK will make an equity investment in Vir of $250 million.
Analysts at Leerink Partners said of the deal: “Previously, GSK announced collaboration plans with University of Queensland and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Clover Biopharmaceuticals, and more recently Xiamen Innovax, although GSK’s efforts were limited to making its adjuvant system available. GSK is one of the largest antiviral drug companies in the world and a major vaccine manufacturer, and we believe this collaboration shows GSK’s willingness to take more responsibility for deploying its internal capabilities and capital against this global pandemic, which should generate goodwill for both the company and the industry.”