A small biotechnology company focused on antiviral drugs that has lately gained prominence in the fight against Covid-19 has added a division of one of Korea’s largest business conglomerates to its growing portfolio of big-ticket biopharma partnerships.

San Francisco-based Vir Biotechnology said Thursday that it made a partnership with Songdo, South Korea-based Samsung Biologics. The deal focuses on large-scale manufacturing of monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and builds on two deals that Vir had previously announced, namely its manufacturing agreement with China-based WuXi Biologics and a letter of intent with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biogen. The Samsung Biologics deal is worth about $362 million, and the manufacturer is expected to start manufacturing as early as October and produce potential commercial batches of the drug starting in 2021.

“With millions of people being impacted by this virus, accessibility to effective treatment is paramount,” Samsung Biologics CEO Tae Han Kim said in a statement. “Vir’s candidate molecules, supported by Samsung Biologics’ production scale, have the potential to bring hope to countless lives across nations suffering from Covid-19.”

The two lead product candidates for Covid-19 in Vir’s portfolio are VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, both monoclonal antibodies that have shown an ability to neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus in cell culture testing. The company plans to proceed into a Phase II clinical trial in the next three to five months.

Vir has signed deals with a number of companies as it develops the two drugs. Last week, it announced a partnership with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline to research and develop treatments for coronaviruses, including Covid-19, with an initial focus on the aforementioned two monoclonal antibodies. That deal, which includes a $250 million equity investment by GSK, will include the use of CRISPR screening and artificial intelligence to identify compounds with potential activity against the viruses.

Prior to announcing the GSK deal, Vir said it would expand an existing partnership with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals to develop RNA-interference drugs targeting host factors for treating Covid-19.

Other companies involved in developing therapies for Covid-19 include Gilead Sciences, which is running a Phase III program of the antiviral drug remdesivir, while others are developing drugs to treat the inflammation and pneumonia associated with the disease that is a major cause of associated mortality and morbidity. These include Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi, which are developing the anti-inflammatory drug Kevzara (sarilumab), and Incyte and Novartis, which are planning a Phase III study of Jakafi (ruxolitinib). Vaccines in clinical development include Moderna’s Phase I mRNA-1273 and CanSino Biologics’ Phase II Ad5-nCoV.

Photo: mediaphotos, Getty Images



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