Vir Biotechnology reports early progress in antibody treatment for Covid-19

By MATTHEW HERPER @matthewherper

MARCH 25, 2020

Vir Biotechnology, a San Francisco-based biotechnology firm, said Wednesday that laboratory testing showed two of its antibody drugs appeared to neutralize the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 and that it would pursue testing them in people.

The company said that human tests of the drugs could begin in three to five months, putting it roughly in line with two other efforts to produce anti-coronavirus antibodies. Regeneron, based in Tarrytown, N.Y., has said that its antibodies could enter trials by early summer — and that its treatment, if it proves effective, could be available for some uses in the fall. Eli Lilly, which is developing anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies with AbCellera, a Vancouver biotech, has said it hopes to begin human tests in four months.

“Stopping this disease will take a combination of prevention and treatment approaches,”  Vir CEO George Scangos said in a statement. “At Vir, we are fortunate that our existing antibody platform gave us a running start against COVID-19, and we have the internal and partnered capabilities to work on multiple approaches.”

Vir is working with the Cambridge, Mass., biotech firm Biogen, where Scangos was previously CEO, and Wuxi Biologics, a China-based manufacturing organization.

Antibodies are a part of the immune system that drug companies have learned to weaponize as treatments for diseases. An antibody drug against SARS-CoV-2 might either treat infection in very sick patients or prevent infection. It is one of many techniques researchers are attempting against Covid-19. For a rundown of approaches, see this story.

Vir is taking a somewhat different approach from Regeneron. While Regeneron is going to choose two antibodies to use together, Vir has picked a single antibody. But Vir is modifying it in two different ways and testing the resulting two experimental drugs in parallel.

The first modification should make the antibodies last longer in the body, and is being done to both candidates. The second, in animal models, leads to long-term production of white blood cells that might lead to long-term immunity, as with a vaccine. If this proves effective, the antibody could be used to prevent infection.

Vir said it has also identified other antibodies that work differently, so that they might be combined with the two it is testing. And it is continuing to search for antibodies in the blood or patients who have survived SARS-CoV-2.

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