People, Startups

Ex-Biogen chief George Scangos to spearhead a Gates-backed startup with big plans to fight infectious diseases

George Scangos

Ex-Biogen CEO George Scangos won’t be spending much time between jobs. Arch Ventures co-founder Robert Nelsen has recruited Scangos to run an ambitious new startup of his focused on amping up an immune system attack on some pernicious viral and bacterial diseases like tuberculosis.

Nelsen, who never does anything small, has already committed $150 million to the venture — dubbed Vir Biotechnology. He’s being joined by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside “sovereign wealth funds, public mutual funds and prominent individuals and family offices” that plan to put up hundreds of millions more to back their work.

That money will be used to in-license new programs with an eye to quickly building a pipeline of new therapies. Former Vertex Pharmaceuticals president and Biogen Vice President of Research and Scientific Board member Vicki Sato will take on the chairman’s role of the San Francisco-based company.

They’re getting started with viral vectors obtained in a buyout of TomegaVa, technologies originally developed by a team at Oregon Health & Science University which was led by Louis Picker and Klaus Frueh.

“The scale and scope we envision for Vir will allow us to fund targeted academic research, ramp our own research and development efforts, and write individual checks of up to $100 million to in-license innovative technology platforms and novel clinical assets from biotech and pharmaceutical companies,” said Nelsen.

That’s all in line with Nelsen’s Big Picture thinking at Arch, which has also backed Unity, which is looking to become a pioneer in anti-aging R&D, and other high flying biotechs like Juno, one of the original CAR-T companies now struggling with a dangerous lead program.

Scangos had this to say:

“The opportunity to lead Vir is one I could not pass up. There is a tremendous global need for effective therapies and preventions for infectious diseases of considerable public health importance. Success would mean alleviation of a lot of human suffering as well as meaningful financial returns for Vir investors. The science has matured to a point where exciting new approaches are at hand, and there is a need for a company to pursue those approaches with excellence, critical mass and scale. Vir is that company, and I am very excited to take on a leadership role.”

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