Vir Advances Antibodies Against COVID-19, CEO Leads BIO’s Coronavirus Outreach

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Engaging Partners For Manufacturing Early On

“Manufacturing obviously is key and the rate at which you can actually generate good cell lines and manufacture antibodies from them is going to be one of the bottlenecks here,” Scangos said. “We have begun, already, working with WuXi and Biogen and we have transferred to them the first of the antibodies, and they’re already working on them.”

Vir and WuXi Biologics agreed in February to work together on the global development, manufacturing and commercialization of treatments for COVID-19. WuXi’s commercial rights are limited to Greater China, while Vir maintained rights in all other markets.

The company also expanded its existing agreement with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY). for the development of RNA interfering (RNAi) therapeutics that treat infectious diseases to include therapies that target SARS-CoV-2. Vir will tap into Alnylam’s work to deliver novel conjugates of siRNA, which mediate RNAi, to the lungs and will lead development of any drug candidates under the agreement.

“The issue for biotech companies, like all pre-commercial companies, is you don’t have infinite cash in the bank,” Scangos said. “Vir is in the fortunate position that we were able to raise a substantial amount of money, so we are able to do that.”

The company, which plans to release its fourth quarter and full-year 2019 financial report on 24 March, had $320.2m as of 30 September based on its prior venture capital and private equity fundraising. In addition to those significant funds, Vir grossed an additional $142.9m from its IPO last October, and through its work on the novel coronavirus it has a relatively near-term opportunity to bring a revenue-generating product to market.

“When we started working [on COVID-19], it wasn’t clear whether this was purely something we were doing because it was the right thing, where we are going to help head off an epidemic,” Scangos said. “Increasingly, this looks like a serious global pandemic that is not going to go away soon. If that is the case, there is an interesting commercial opportunity as well as doing the right thing. We think it is a very interesting and important thing for Vir to be doing and other companies as well.”

COVID Trials Moving Quickly, Other Programs Continue Without Disruption

The CEO said Vir’s COVID-19 efforts have not impacted the company’s other programs, which include the Phase 1 influenza A antibody VIR-2482 and the Phase 2 hepatitis B virus (HBV)-targeting siRNA Vir-2218 under the partnership with Alnylam. Both are expected to advance later this year and the firm will move two new assets into the clinic.

“We have a group of people making sure that our other programs are not impacted by the COVID work and then we’ve got a group of people working on COVID,” Scangos said.

He noted that Vir has not yet seen any delays in its ongoing clinical trials nor in its plans to initiate additional trials, but said some impact may be felt as the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold globally.

The CEO said Vir is pushing its COVID-19 programs forward “aggressively” and anticipates that those clinical trials will enroll quickly given the dire and growing need for treatments.

Meanwhile, he said the company continues to seek out partners for both its COVID-19 and non-coronavirus programs.

“We are always in discussions on our other programs as well and I don’t think our partnering strategy has changed as a result of the COVID situation,” Scangos said. “We don’t have an urgent need for cash right at this moment, so we’re going ahead and if we can get the right partnerships, we’ll find them. We don’t feel a compelling need to do that for the cash.”

This article was first published on 20 March 2020 in Scrip.

Image: iStock/Christoph Burgstedt

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