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GSK and Vir Biotech join forces for COVID-19 antibodies

Phase 2 clinical trials could start within three to five months, pending regulatory approvals

GSK HQ Brentford

GlaxoSmithKline has signed a partnership with Vir Biotechnology to develop antibody-based drugs for coronaviruses that could start clinical testing within the next few months, as well as vaccines.

GSK is making a $250m equity investment in San Francisco-based Vir, led by biotech veteran George Scangos, in order to gain access to the biotech’s monoclonal antibody platform technology. Other financial terms haven’t been disclosed.

The project will focus initially on VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, two antibodies developed by Vir that bind to the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and seem to be effective in the lab at neutralising it.

GSK and Vir says they hope to start phase 2 clinical trials of the antibodies within the next three to five months, if they can get regulatory approvals. The FDA has said it will expedite reviews relating to COVID-19 therapies and has deployed dedicated staff to push applications through.

Vir’s approach has also been deployed during the SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV outbreaks, and involves identifying antibodies from patients who have recovered from infections and producing modified, synthetic copies that can be produced and delivered at scale.

The scope of the deal is broader than the current coronavirus pandemic and will lay the foundations for a rapid response to any future coronavirus outbreaks, including the development of gene-targeting drugs based on CRISPR and vaccines.

The partners will combine their CRISPR and artificial intelligence drug screening expertise to hunt down cellular targets that can prevent infection with coronaviruses, with GSK also contributing its functional genomics capabilities to the programmes. Vir has previously used that approach to develop drugs for hepatitis B virus and influenza.

The deal was announced as the COVID-19 pandemic moved above the 1.3 million confirmed case mark, with nearly 75,000 deaths and 288,000 recovered patients – and shortly before UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson became one of the most high-profile public figure to require intensive care treatment in hospital.

It’s the latest in a series of initiatives launched by GSK in response to the pandemic, including vaccine-hunting deals with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Chinese firm Clover Biopharmaceuticals, and a proposed alliance with AstraZeneca to form a joint lab to provide diagnostic testing.

Hal Barron, GSK’s chief science officer, 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.”

Article by
Phil Taylor

7th April 2020

From: Research

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