GlaxoSmithKline and Vir collaborate to take on Covid-19 – STAT

Posted: April 6, 2020 at 10:42 pm

The drug giant GlaxoSmithKline said Monday it will collaborate with Vir Biotechnology on experimental treatments and potentially, vaccines against the novel coronavirus.

As part of the deal, GlaxoSmithKline will invest $250 million in the San Francisco startup at a 10% premium to the companys closing share price on March 27.

The agreement includes Virs lead drugs against the novel coronavirus, which are monoclonal antibodies that could enter efficacy studies in humans in three to five months. The deal includes an early effort to use CRISPR, the gene-editing technology, to identify medicines that might help the immune system fight off viruses. The collaboration also encompasses a long-term project to develop a vaccine that might prevent infection not only with the virus, called SARS-CoV-2, but related viruses that could cause problems in the future.


Virs unique antibody platform has precedented success in identifying and developing antibodies as treatments for multiple pathogens, Hal Barron, GlaxoSmithKlines chief scientific officer, said in a statement.

George Scangos, Virs chief executive officer, said the antibodies were isolated from a patient who previously had severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, a disease caused by another coronavirus that sickened thousands in 2003 and 2004.


Antibodies that are isolated, lets say years after an infection often have properties that you dont find in antibodies isolated immediately after, Scangos said. When SARS-CoV-2 started spreading, Sangos said the company had a running start because we already had those SARS antibodies.

Virs drugs in development are both based on a single antibody from this patient, and both have been modified so that they will last longer in the body. The company has altered one of the drugs in a bid to create long-term immunity, much like a vaccine. That particular technology has never been tested in humans before.

Antibody drugs could be used in three possible ways: to prevent people at high risk, such as healthcare workers, from ever becoming infected; to prevent those infected from developing severe respiratory problems that can make Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, deadly; and to treat people who are already in respiratory distress. Vir expects to start trials for all three uses this summer.

Other companies are working on similar treatments, including Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which has said it will begin testing cocktails of its antibody drugs this summer. Abcellera and Eli Lilly have said they could start tests of antibody drugs around the same time. Brii Biosciences is also developing antibody drugs against the virus, as is a team from pharmaceutical giant Amgen and Adaptive Biosciences.

Vir and GlaxoSmithKlines collaboration will also lead to longer-term research, including projects using CRISPR, which both companies are already using in their work. The tool based on enzymes that bacteria use to defend themselves against viruses can be used to edit the genes in human cells in culture. Scientists can then see whether genetic changes render the cells more resistant to viruses. In a few cases, Scangos said, that approach has helped identify existing experimental drug molecules that might help the immune system fight off viruses.

The two companies will also work together to test whether Virs antibodies can be used to identify the weak spots of the virus, which might also be shared by other coronaviruses. If thats the case, Scangos said it could help researchers develop vaccines that can target not only SARS-CoV-2, but future viral threats. That work, however, is at a very early stage.

Correction: a previous version of this story misstated the stock premium GSK paid.

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GlaxoSmithKline and Vir collaborate to take on Covid-19 - STAT

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