GSK Strikes Deals with Vir Biotechnology and China’s Innovax Biotech Against COVID-19

Biotechnology Deal

Following close on the heels of its vaccine development agreement with China’s Xiamen Innovax Biotech, GlaxoSmithKline forged a research and development deal with  Vir Biotechnology  to develop treatments for COVID-19.

The collaboration with Vir will use that company’s proprietary monoclonal antibody platform technology to accelerate existing and identify new anti-viral antibodies that could be used as therapeutic or preventative options to help address the current COVID-19 pandemic and future outbreaks. The initial focus of the collaboration will be to accelerate the development of specific antibody candidates identified by the Vir platform, VIR-7831 and VIR-7832. Both have demonstrated a high affinity for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The companies expect to begin Phase II testing of the therapies within the next three to five months.

Under terms of the deal, GSK made a $250 million equity investment into Vir.

Additionally, the companies have also agreed to conduct research into SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus vaccines by coupling GSK’s vaccine technologies and expertise with Vir’s ability to identify neutralizing epitopes that are present across entire viral families. These efforts will be in addition to other initiatives GSK is advancing to develop a potential vaccine for COVID-19, including the collaboration with Innovax, and other deals the company has struck.

With Innovax, the U.K. pharma giant entered into an agreement to provide its vaccine adjuvant technology in support of a potential vaccine against the pandemic. Innovax is developing its COVID-19 XWG-03 vaccine candidate technology is based on a series of truncated S (spike) proteins which will be screened during the pre-clinical testing and a lead candidate will be determined by immunogenicity data. Under terms of the deal, GSK will provide Innovax with its pandemic adjuvant system for preclinical evaluation of the vaccine. An adjuvant is added to some vaccines to enhance the immune response, which creates a stronger and longer-lasting immunity against infections. 

“The use of an adjuvant is of particular importance in a pandemic situation since it may reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and therefore contributing to protecting more people,” GSK said in an update regarding its overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early indications of the adjuvant’s benefit have been reported in the first pre-clinical experiments by one of the collaborations. GSK expects data to be reported from the various collaborations over the next three months and these data will inform the next steps for clinical development of the candidate vaccines, the pharma company added.

In its announcement, GSK did not provide any financial details of its arrangement with Innovax. The two companies do have a vaccine development history. In the fall of 2019, the companies forged an agreement to develop a next-generation vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), a leading cause of cervical cancer. According to China-based news group Xinhua, the vaccine candidate combines an innovative antigen detection method developed at Xiamen University with GSK's proprietary adjuvant AS04.

In addition to its vaccine pact with Innovax, GSK has also teamed up with the University of Queensland in Australia and Clover Biopharmaceuticals to develop a vaccine candidate. The deal with China-based Clover was struck in February when the pandemic was still largely spread across Europe and parts of Asia. GSK will boost also Clover’s protein-based coronavirus vaccine candidate, COVID-19 S-Trimer with its adjuvant program.

Also in February, GSK and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) entered into an agreement for the company’s adjuvant program for vaccines. It’s through this partnership that the company is working with the Australian university.

“We are deeply committed to supporting the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. Using GSK science and technology, we are helping develop potential new vaccines and new medicines to prevent and treat COVID-19,” GSK Chief Executive Officer Emma Walmsley said in a statement. “We will also make our resources available to help scale the global response, whether that be through manufacture of a vaccine, laboratory space to conduct research or financial support to provide vital equipment to health workers.”

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