COVID-19 Antibody: Vir Biotechnology Partners with Samsung Biologics for Large Scale Manufacturing
By Rajaneesh K. Gopinath, Ph.D.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the California-based company has formed several collaborative partnerships to strengthen its pursuit of identifying antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In the same vein, it has now inked an agreement with Samsung Biologics, a leading Contract Manufacturing Organization (CMO) server in South Korea to manufacture it’s promising candidates.
Vir Biotechnology is a clinical-stage immunology start-up that develops antibodies and T-cells against life-threatening global infections. It has four major pipelines developing drugs against tuberculosis and other viral diseases like HIV, HBV, and Influenza A. Cofounded by Arch Venture Partners, with significant investments from Softbank’s Vision Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Vir surprisingly had a rough trading debut. Only last October, the company went public with an initial public offering raising $143 million. Soon after, its stocks began to tumble, bringing its market value down to $1.5 billion, from its original evaluation of $2.2 billion at the time. However, it has done well to shift focus to the coronavirus challenge, and improving its stock value in the process.
Turnaround in Market Fortunes
In late January, Vir Biotechnology announced plans on concentrating its efforts and resources to combat COVID-19, which at the time was still referred to as novel coronavirus. Armed with a fully human monoclonal antibody (mAb) library discovered using its proprietary antibody platform, it intended to test previously identified, SARS and MERS neutralizing antibodies against the COVID-19 causing virus. Vir’s robust antibody platform identifies rare antibodies from survivors of infectious diseases. Within three weeks, it announced the identification of two mAbs that bound to SARS-CoV-2 and went on to initiate several partnerships. All these announcements reflected in its market performance and the company ended February with a stock value peaking at $46.5 per share, its highest ever.
Vir Biotechnology’s Growing Partners
Vir quickly entered partnerships with other companies and made efforts to attack COVID-19 through multiple strategies. It partnered with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals to develop RNAi towards COVID-19, a collaboration that it has recently expanded to include exploration of host factors too. Next, it collaborated with Wuxi Biologics to develop additional antibodies. It also signed agreements with the National Institutes of Health to develop mAbs against all coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-2, with Biogen for process development and manufacturing, and with Generation Bio for using a non-viral gene therapy platform. Recently an alliance with GSK was also made to combine capabilities such as CRISPR and AI to identify anti-coronavirus compounds that target cellular host genes.
New Partnership with Samsung Biologics
Vir has now identified multiple SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies from its pipeline and continues to do so with the aim to employ them for prophylaxis, treatments like vaccines and for preventing the COVID-19 disease severity. The company is now making plans to advance VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, its two promising antibody candidates directly to phase 2 trials within 2 to 3 months. These antibodies show a high binding affinity to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and are reported to exhibit a strong neutralizing capacity as determined by live-virus cellular assays.
To ensure fast and large scale manufacturing of these antibodies following positive safety and efficacy data, Vir has signed a new deal worth $362 million with Korean CMO, Samsung Biologics to augment its previous tie-up with WuXi. The terms are still under negotiation and a definitive agreement is anticipated before July 31. But early agreements convey that the manufacturing is expected to begin as early as October. Samsung Biologics would then manufacture potential commercial batches starting 2021 in Plant 3.
“We are proud to be working as a partner with Vir in their response to the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Tae Han Kim, CEO of Samsung Biologics. “With millions of people being impacted by this virus, accessibility to effective treatment is paramount. 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.”
Vir’s current stock value stands at $29 per share and this increase must be attributed to its handling of resources and partnerships in directing efforts against COVID-19 in such a short period of time. A successful COVID-19 trial would definitely do good for both the company and the rest of the world.
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