GlaxoSmithKline is investing $ 250 million in the San Francisco-based start-up Vir Biotechnology to develop antibodies that could be used to treat the coronavirus.
The UK-based pharmaceutical company acquires a 6% stake in Vir Biotechnology by paying 10% more than the closing price of the smallest group on Friday. The announcement boosted Vir’s shares by almost 20% to $ 34.75 mid-morning in New York.
Many companies hope that antibodies – proteins that protect the body from attack by foreign pathogens – may be the quickest way to boost the immune systems of sickest patients, and even prevent healthcare workers from falling sick.
Vir already has two viral antibodies to Covid-19 that were developed from a patient with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, although other antibodies may be produced artificially.
GSK said the Vir proteins were “very potent” when targeted at the coronavirus in the laboratory.
While antibody treatments offer hope for the coronavirus, other pharmaceutical companies are looking to develop or reuse antiviral drugs, such as those used to treat HIV / AIDS and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Hal Barron, Scientific Director of GSK, said the companies will join together to work on “very promising Vir antibodies to target Covid-19” and many other diseases.
George Scangos, CEO of Vir Biotechnology, said that multiple therapeutic approaches, used together or one after the other, will be needed to stop the pandemic. “It is likely that the current coronavirus epidemic will not be the last,” he said.
Bruno Bulic, pharmaceutical analyst at Baader Helvea, said the Vir approach was more “promising” than other potential treatments – including some from Gilead and AbbVie – that sought to disrupt the virus using drugs designed to other purposes. “It turns out in the dark, really,” he said.
The announcement follows agreements between Amgen and Adaptive Biotechnologies, and Eli Lilly and AbCellera, to explore the use of antibodies to treat Covid-19. Takeda, the Japanese pharmaceutical company, and Regeneron, New York-based biotechnology, have attempted to identify the strongest antibodies in the recovered patients.
Vir’s antibodies bind to an area of the Sars virus that also exists in the new coronavirus, which is known as Sars-CoV-2 and causes Covid-19.
With permission from regulatory authorities, the companies plan to test two antibody candidates in patients within three to five months. They will skip phase 1 trials to test safety in humans and move directly to phase 2, where they will review safety and efficacy.
The Vir platform was used to find antibodies against Ebola, which are used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as against influenza, malaria and hepatitis B.
The companies will also be looking for new antibodies to Sars-CoV-2 using Crispr, a widely known technology for gene editing and artificial intelligence. Vir used this screening process to identify candidates for other respiratory conditions, including respiratory syncytial virus, a common contagious disease that infects infants.