GlaxoSmithKline’s coronavirus collaboration with Vir Biotechnology has yet to advance a product to the market but the progress thus far has convinced the pharmaceutical giant to broaden the partnership beyond Covid-19.
GSK is paying Vir $225 million up front and making a $120 million equity investment in its partner. The most advanced product candidate covered by the expanded agreement is VIR2482, a Vir influenza treatment in early-stage clinical development.
Under deal terms announced Wednesday, Vir will continue to fund development of the influenza drug through Phase 2 testing. If GSK exercises its option to join in the development of the drug, it will pay Vir a $300 million option fee. From that point on, the companies will share the development costs of the influenza program and others in the expanded collaboration. Regulatory milestones could bring Vir up to $200 million more.
San Francisco-based Vir has developed technology that can identify rare antibodies from people who have protection from or have recovered from infectious disease. The biotech uses its technology to find antibodies that could treat and prevent infection by neutralizing pathogens and stimulating the immune system. The Vir technology has been used to find and develop antibodies for SARS-CoV-2, hepatitis B virus, influenza A, Ebola, malaria, and more.
Vir’s VIR2482 is a neutralizing antibody intended to be preventative measure against infection by all strains of influenza A. In lab tests, the antibody has been shown to cover all major strains of influenza A that have emerged since the flu pandemic of 1918. The company also engineered its antibody with a half-life such that a single dose could last for an entire flu season.
So far, Vir’s influenza antibody has completed Phase 1 testing. The expanded alliance also covers two additional research programs. In the first, a collaboration on the development of potential pan-coronavirus therapies will expand to include other respiratory virus targets. Those targets were not disclosed. The second program is a collaboration on up to three neutralizing antibodies identified by Vir’s technology. Those antibodies will be developed for addressing non-influenza pathogens during a three-year research period. Those pathogens were not specified.
GSK began its partnership with Vir last April, paying $250 million to team up on the development of drugs and vaccines for the novel coronavirus based on Vir’s antibody technology. The initial alliance centered on two Vir programs, VIR-7831 and Vir-7832. Both antibodies are designed to block the way viruses enter cells as well as clear infected cells. The antibodies are also designed to achieve high concentration in the lungs, reaching tissues affected by the novel coronavirus.
VIR-7831 is being evaluated as a monotherapy in two Phase 3 studies. A Phase 2 study is underway testing the antibody as part of a combination treatment. The partners expect preliminary results from the first of the Phase 3 tests later in the first quarter of this year. VIR-7832 is set to be studied in a Phase 1b/2a clinical trial sponsored by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. That study is expected to start later this month.