George Scangos, leader of infectious disease drugmaker Vir Biotechnology and one of the industry’s more high-profile chief executives, is retiring in April, the company said Wednesday.
Scangos has led Vir since its launch in 2017 and oversaw its transition from startup to a developer of multiple marketed medicines. He will step down from his post on April 3 and be replaced by Marianne De Backer, currently head of business strategy and development at Bayer’s pharmaceuticals division. Scangos will serve in an advisory role through June 2 and hold a position on Vir’s board afterwards.
“Having the opportunity to bring life-saving medications to patients around the world has been the greatest privilege of my career,” Scangos said in a statement. “I feel confident that now is the right time for me to retire and that Dr. De Backer is the right successor to ensure Vir’s ongoing forward momentum.”
The announcement concludes the latest career chapter for Scangos, a veteran biotech executive who’s run multiple publicly traded companies and helped build two from their earliest days.
From 1996 to 2010, Scangos led Exelixis, during which time he took the Californian biotech public, built its cancer drug pipeline and struck a number of partnerships. From there, Scangos took the reins at one of the industry’s largest companies, Biogen, and significantly changed its strategic course. During his tenure, Biogen restructured, reshaped its management team, moved its headquarters and amassed a portfolio of risky brain drugs headed by the Alzheimer’s medicine now known as Aduhelm — a therapeutic focus it still maintains under current CEO Chris Viehbacher.
Scangos resigned from Biogen in 2016. The following year, he returned to the helm of what was then another small biotech, Vir. Vir was formed by a group of prominent investors, among them Arch Venture Partners and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as part of a plan to develop drugs for a wide range of infectious diseases, a field that at the time had taken a backseat to buzzier research areas like cancer and gene therapy.
“The opportunity to lead Vir is one I could not pass up,” Scangos said at the time. Since then, Vir has grown dramatically. It raised more than $600 million in private financing, added another $143 million in a 2019 IPO and helped bring to market an antibody drug for COVID-19 as well as an Ebola antiviral. The company ended its last quarter in September with $2.7 billion in the bank, partnerships with GSK and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, and drugs in development for hepatitis B and D infections, influenza and HIV.
Still, at about $30 apiece, Vir shares have lost more than half their value since an early 2021 peak. Its COVID-19 drug is no longer authorized in the U.S. due to the emergence of newer viral variants and its other medicines remain unproven. Several Phase 2 study results are expected this year.
Their development will fall to De Backer, who had been building up Bayer’s gene and cell therapy capabilities and, before that, spent more than two decades at Johnson & Johnson.
“I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to build on George’s incredible legacy. I am equally humbled to lead [Vir] into the next transformational phase of the company’s history guided by an exciting vision for the future, several near-term catalysts and the financial strength needed to fund key programs for several years,” De Backer said in a statement.
Vir shares slid about 2% in early trading Wednesday before regaining ground.