Business, Deals, Startups

With $500M-plus, a buyout and two new billion-dollar pacts, upstart Vir is ready to roll on infectious diseases

George Scangos has been busy since leaving Biogen’s helm and jumping to the startup Vir Biotechnology in San Francisco. Now it’s time for the coming out party, which involves development alliances with two of the biotechs back at his former base in Cambridge, MA. And according to Scangos, Vir is still just getting started in building a whole new company.

Today Scangos unveiled a biotech buyout, two billion-dollar drug development deals to build the pipeline, more than $500 million in financing from some high-rolling tech gamblers and four academic partnerships at Vir, which has set out to create a new pipeline for infectious disease drug development.

Let’s kick this off with the partnerships.

Robert Nelsen, Arch Ventures

Alnyam gets it started with a pact covering RNAi drugs for infectious diseases, with Vir bagging development rights for a next-gen hepatitis B drug along with rights to four other programs that go into the package. Significantly, Alnylam simultaneously said it’s axing its original early-stage hep B program for ALN-HBV and replacing it with an amped up successor dubbed ALN-HBV02.

In the Alnylam pact, Vir will pick up the program for the first human proof-of-concept study, with the partners co-funding the work. Vir takes control in Phase II and Alnylam has an option to jump into a profit-sharing pact ahead of Phase III.

Alnylam gets an unspecified upfront in cash and stock in Vir, with $1 billion-plus in milestones.

Then there’s Visterra. This biotech has built a platform using an epitope-targeting tech that can be used for precision antibody development.

Vir has bagged an option on minority rights to VIS410 for influenza A hospital cases with a shot at a regional co-promotion license, plus programs for RSV, fungal infections and two other programs to be decided on. Visterra also gets more than a billion dollars in potential milestones.

Building its own platform, Vir has acquired Switzerland’s Humabs BioMed SA for an unspecified amount, adding its operations and staff, who will remain in Europe.

The four new academic deals cover an AI collaboration for drug discovery with Stanford; a partnership with Harvard that will give Vir an in-licensing edge for future programs; an expanded pact with OHSU and an alliance with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for cell therapies.

Paying for all this is a syndicate that was led by Arch Ventures’ Robert Nelsen, who seeded the company, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Altitude Life Science Ventures and Alta Partners. They’re joined by SoftBank Vision Fund, Temasek, Baillie Gifford, the Alaska Permanent Fund, and select sovereign wealth funds, private individuals, family offices and institutional investors.

Scangos calls Vir a science-driven company, but it’s very much focused on clinical stage development. In a statement, he noted:

“We expect to move several compounds into clinical development in the next 18 months and we have an option to acquire a portion of a Phase II compound targeting flu. We also continue to evaluate several near-term opportunities to acquire additional mid- and late-stage clinical compounds, as well as expand our technology base even further. We have hired an experienced management team and built internal technology development capabilities required for the production of biological products. I am pleased that in our first year we have been able to align leading ideas, technology, and expertise focused on transforming the care of people with serious infectious diseases and providing a return to our investors.”


George Scangos pictured during a TV interview on January 12, 2016. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images



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