GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology announced that they have agreed to enter into a collaboration to develop anti-viral antibodies for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. In addition, to gain access to Vir’s monoclonal antibody technology, GlaxoSmithKline said it will also make an equity investment in Vir of $250 million, priced at $37.73 per share, representing a 10% premium to the latter’s closing share price on March 27.
The collaboration will initially concentrate on accelerating development of the antibody candidates VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, which the companies said have shown “high affinity for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and are highly potent in neutralising SARS-CoV-2 in live virus-cellular assays.” GlaxoSmithKline and Vir indicated that they plan to move the candidates directly into a phase 2 trial within the next 3 to 5 months, subject to regulatory review.
Hal Barron, chief scientific officer at GlaxoSmithKline, said “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.”
The companies explained that the partnership will leverage GlaxoSmithKline’s expertise in functional genomics and combine their capabilities in CRISPR screening and artificial intelligence to identify anti-coronavirus compounds that target cellular host genes in a bid to inhibit viral infection. Vir noted that it has already identified multiple potential targets against influenza and other respiratory pathogens, as well as hepatitis B virus, and will now focus on SARS-CoV-2. The companies plan to work on SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus vaccines as well, by pairing GlaxoSmithKline’s expertise in vaccines with Vir’s ability to identify neutralising epitopes that are present across entire viral families.
GlaxoSmithKline is currently partnered with Clover Biopharmaceuticals and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, focusing on providing adjuvants as part of the UK drugmaker’s efforts to find potential vaccines against the coronavirus.
George Scangos, chief executive at Vir, said “it is becoming increasingly clear that multiple therapeutic approaches, used in combination or in sequence, will be necessary to stop this coronavirus pandemic,” adding that the current COVID-19 outbreak will “likely…not be the last.” Scangos stated late last month that Vir plans to progress two antibody development candidates that neutralise SARS-CoV-2 into clinical testing “as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, Vir recently announced that it was expanding an existing partnership with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals to include the development and commercialisation of RNAi therapeutics targeting SARS-CoV-2.