GSK, Vir Biotechnology expand coronavirus collaboration to include new therapies including influenza
London: GlaxoSmithKline plc and Vir Biotechnology, Inc. have recently announced they have signed a binding agreement to expand their existing collaboration to include the research and development of new therapies for influenza and other respiratory viruses.
The expanded collaboration, which builds on the agreement signed in 2020 to research and develop therapies for coronaviruses, provides GSK exclusive rights to collaborate with Vir on the development of potential best-in-class monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) for the prevention or treatment of influenza. These include VIR-2482, an intramuscularly administered investigational mAb designed as a universal prophylactic for influenza A that has completed a Phase 1 trial, as well as next generation antibodies for the prevention or treatment of influenza during a three-year research period. GSK will have the exclusive option to co-develop VIR-2482 after Vir completes and reports Phase 2 trial outcomes, and will share development costs on the development of all other influenza mAbs.
Influenza causes up to 500,000 hospitalisations and 34,000 deaths each year in the United States alone, approximately 75% of which are caused by influenza A. The protection provided by current vaccines varies from season to season, based on the virus strains circulating. People over 65 years of age with at least one comorbidity, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or who are immunocompromised, are at significantly increased risk of flu and flu-related hospitalisation and mortality. This is also a population where the currently available vaccines have historically had lower efficacy.
As part of the new collaboration agreement, the companies will also engage in two additional research programmes. The first is an expansion of their current functional genomics collaboration to develop potential pan-coronavirus therapeutics to now include other respiratory virus targets. Under the second programme, the companies will collaborate to develop up to three neutralising monoclonal antibodies identified using Vir's antibody technology platform to target non-influenza pathogens during a three-year research period.
Dr. Hal Barron, Chief Scientific Officer and President R&D, GSK, said: "We believe, now more than ever, that it is very important to develop new therapies to treat and ideally prevent infectious diseases. I am delighted that we are expanding our collaboration with Vir whose focus on novel antibodies, expertise in functional genomics, unique technology and talented scientists will further strengthen GSK's position as a world leader in infectious diseases."
George Scangos, Ph.D., CEO, Vir Biotechnology, said: "GSK has been a valuable strategic partner and scientific collaborator in the fight against COVID-19. As part of our functional genomics collaboration directed at COVID-19, we have turned up multiple targets that have the potential to treat influenza and other respiratory viruses, and it makes sense to extend the scope of our collaboration to include these new targets. This expanded collaboration supports the rapid advancement of multiple promising investigational compounds in our pipeline, increasing the likelihood that these potential life-saving treatments will reach patients sooner, and will advance our shared goal of developing single drugs that can address multiple 'bugs.'"
Under the terms of the agreement, GSK will make an upfront payment of $225 million, and a further equity investment in Vir of $120 million. Initially, Vir will continue to fund the development of VIR-2482 through completion of Phase 2 trials, after which time, if GSK exercises its option to co-develop VIR-2482, it will pay an option fee of $300 million. Following option exercise for VIR-2482, and for each other program in the expanded collaboration, the companies will share the development costs and related profits associated with this agreement. GSK will also pay Vir up to $200 million based on the successful delivery of pre-defined regulatory milestones. The equity investment and collaboration agreement are conditional upon customary conditions including regulatory review by the appropriate regulatory agencies under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.
GSK and Vir entered into an initial strategic collaboration in April 2020 to research and develop solutions for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The focus of the collaboration to date has been the development of specific antibody candidates identified by Vir's monoclonal antibody platform, VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, that have demonstrated the potential to both block viral entry into healthy cells and clear infected cells, and to provide a high barrier to resistance. VIR-7831 is currently in two global Phase 3 studies as monotherapy and one Phase 2 study as combination therapy, with initial results from the first of the Phase 3 studies expected in the first quarter of 2021. VIR-7832 has been accepted into the NHS-supported AGILE Phase 1b/2a study with a planned start in February 2021.