- GlaxoSmithKline is making a bigger bet on its collaboration with Vir Biotechnology, reaching a deal to expand the companies' work from research on coronavirus therapies to also develop treatments for influenza and other respiratory viruses.
- Per terms of the deal, Vir will receive an upfront payment of $225 million from GSK, which will also make an equity investment of $120 million, the companies said Wednesday. Vir shares rose by more than 10% in morning trading.
- The deal includes an option for GSK to co-develop VIR-2482, an antibody treatment designed to prevent flu that has already completed a Phase 1 trial. Vir will fund research through Phase 2, at which point GSK can pay an option fee of $300 million and get co-development rights.
The expanded collaboration gives GSK another way to build its presence in an infectious disease field newly energized with the urgent response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Research and clinical development has moved at unprecedented speed, delivering effective vaccines and antibody drugs in record time.
Notably for one of the world's biggest vaccine makers, however, GSK hasn't worked to develop its own coronavirus shot, instead pledging its immune-boosting adjuvant to other companies. But the British drugmaker has expanded its infectious disease research, coronavirus-related and otherwise, through deals and partnerships.
In addition to its work with Vir, GSK also recently broadened a partnership with CureVac to focus on the German company's coronavirus vaccine and next-generation candidates that might be able to fight emerging variants of the virus. The companies first announced plans to work on as many as five mRNA-based vaccines and monoclonal antibodies for infectious diseases in July last year.
The U.K. drugmaker initially joined forces with Vir last year as well, taking a $250 million stake in the biotech and gaining access to a technology that zeroes in on drug targets common to viral families. The companies started by focusing on two antibody candidates, VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, that showed promise against the coronavirus.
In January, GSK and Vir announced a collaboration with Eli Lilly to test a combination treatment of VIR-7831 with Lilly's bamlanivimab. The Food and Drug Administration cleared the Lilly antibody treatment for emergency use in November to treat COVID-19 patients at high risk for severe cases of the disease or hospitalization.
As part of the initial work on coronavirus with GSK, researchers were discovering targets with the potential to fight flu and other viruses, and an extension of the collaboration made sense, Vir CEO George Scangos said in the companies' statement.
The new deal "supports the rapid advancement of multiple promising investigational compounds," Scangos said. The goal is to develop "single drugs that can address multiple 'bugs,'" he said.
Even though many Americans get flu vaccines, the virus still infects millions of people each year in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that it's caused as many as 810,000 hospitalizations and 61,000 deaths a year since 2010.