GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology 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, in which GSK will make an equity investment in Vir of $250 million, to gain access to Vir’s technology.
The investment will be priced at $37.73, a 10% premium to the closing share price on Friday, March 27, 2020.
GSK said that the collaboration will use Vir’s proprietary monoclonal antibody platform technology to accelerate existing and identify new anti-viral 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 expertise 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.
Dr. Hal Barron, Chief Scientific Officer and President R&D, GSK, said that Vir’s antibody platform is unique and has precedented success in identifying and developing antibodies as treatments for multiple pathogens, and it is highly complementary with GSK’s R&D approach to focus on the science of immunology. Barron said he was very excited that the talent and passion of the two companies will come together to develop solutions for multiple diseases, including the very promising antibody candidates targeting COVID-19.
George Scangos, CEO, Vir Biotechnology, said that 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. 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.”
Due to 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 neutralising SARS-CoV-2 in live virus-cellular assays, GSK said.
The companies plan to proceed directly into a phase 2 clinical trial within the next three to five months.
The collaboration will also utilise Vir’s CRISPR screening and machine learning approach to identify cellular targets whose inhibition can prevent viral infection.
Vir has identified multiple potential targets against flu and other respiratory pathogens, as well as hepatitis B virus, and will now focus on SARS-CoV-2. Additionally, the companies have also agreed to conduct research into SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus vaccines by coupling GSK’s vaccines technologies and expertise with Vir’s ability to identify neutralising epitopes that are present across entire viral families. These efforts will be additive to other initiatives GSK is advancing to develop a potential vaccine for COVID-19.