- Vir Biotechnology on Thursday said it's partnering with Biogen to develop and manufacture an experimental treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that's now spread to more than 100 countries.
- Citing the urgency of the pandemic, Vir said the companies have already begun collaborating ahead of signing an official clinical development and manufacturing agreement.
- For smaller biotechs like Vir, manufacturing is a likely roadblock to advancing any promising candidate that might emerge from initial testing. Shares of the San Francisco-based biotech jumped 10% Thursday, even as the broader market dropped on growing concerns in the U.S. over the coronavirus' spread.
The agreement signals Vir's commitment to taking the monoclonal antibodies it's begun developing for COVID-19 through to clinical testing and beyond.
In Biogen, the smaller biotech has a partner capable of manufacturing a drug candidate on a larger scale. It's also a company that Vir CEO George Scangos is quite familiar with: he served as Biogen's CEO until mid 2016.
Vir made the announcement one day after the World Health Organization officially labeled the spread of SARS-CoV-2, as the coronavirus is called, a pandemic. As of March 11, the virus was confirmed to have infected more than 118,000 people around the world, causing nearly 4,300 deaths.
Pharma and biotech companies are racing to develop treatments and vaccines. Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Moderna are taking the latter approach, with Moderna's prototype vaccine recently entering a human safety study. For therapeutics, meanwhile, Regeneron last month said it would work with the U.S. government to develop antibody treatments, and Gilead is testing its antiviral remdesivir in two larger Phase 3 studies.
Vir is working with antibodies isolated from people who had previously survived an infection with the SARS virus, which shares genetic similarities to SARS-CoV-2.
The company said it is looking at these antibodies, and possibly ones identified in the future, as the potential foundation for a treatment against the newer coronavirus.
Scangos was recently put at the center of the biotech sector's efforts to combat SARS-CoV-2, selected by the industry group BIO to coordinate a response.
"The possibility exists that this will be one of the major pandemics in our lifetime or beyond," Scangos said in a video posted by BIO. "It's important for all constituents — governments, NGOs, companies — to put aside their parochial interests and work together to see if we can do something that will save a lot of lives around the world."