GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Vir Biotechnology have signed a partnership agreement to research and develop solutions for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19.

The collaboration has been designed to leverage unique monoclonal antibody platform technology developed by Vir to advance the anti-viral antibodies to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The companies will work together to tap on GSK’s expertise in functional genomics and combine their joint capabilities in CRISPR screening and artificial intelligence to identify anti-coronavirus compounds targeting cellular host genes.

Also, the parties are anticipated to apply their combined expertise to research SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus vaccines.

GSK chief scientific officer and R&D president Hal Barron said: “Vir’s unique antibody platform has precedented success in identifying and developing antibodies as treatments for multiple pathogens, and it is highly complementary with our R&D approach to focus on the science of immunology.

“I am very excited that the talent and passion of our two companies will come together to develop solutions for multiple diseases, including the very promising antibody candidates targeting COVID-19.”

GSK and Vir will conduct a phase 2 clinical trial of antibody candidates

The collaboration is initially focused on advancing the development of specific antibody candidates VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, identified by the Vir platform.

The antibody candidates have shown a high affinity for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and are capable of neutralising SARS-CoV-2 in live virus-cellular assays, said the company.

The companies are planning to directly conduct a phase 2 clinical trial, subject to regulatory review, and use Vir’s CRISPR screening and machine learning approach to identify cellular targets whose inhibition can prevent viral infection.

Also, the companies will research SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus vaccines by coupling GSK’s vaccines technologies and expertise with Vir’s ability to identify neutralising epitopes, to develop a potential vaccine for COVID-19.

Vir Biotechnology CEO George Scangos said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that multiple therapeutic approaches, used in combination or in sequence, will be necessary to stop this coronavirus pandemic. It is likely that the current coronavirus outbreak will not be the last.

“These insights are informing our scientific approach and we are pleased to join forces on the execution of this strategy with GSK, who have a like-minded R&D strategy, a deep expertise in vaccines and an impressive global reach to bring medicines to people around the world.”