Biogen signs on to manufacture clinical supplies for Vir's COVID-19 antibodies

Biopharma companies across the globe are scrambling to address the novel coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a pandemic on Wednesday. Now, two of them—Biogen and former CEO George Scangos' new company, Vir Biotechnology—are teaming up on an antibody development and manufacturing pact.

Biogen and Vir have signed a letter of intent and have already started working together. The deal is still subject to final agreements, but due to the urgency of the crisis, the companies took the unusual step of starting work before finalizing the details. 

Under the agreement, Biogen is working out cell line development, process development and handling clinical manufacturing for Vir's monoclonal antibodies. Vir said the antibodies it has discovered bind to the novel coronavirus, and it’s testing whether they can treat or prevent the infection. 

“Biogen is one of the global leaders in cell line and process development for advanced biologics; tapping into their capabilities will provide us with a U.S. base for supply and manufacture of antibody therapies,” Scangos, Vir's CEO, said in a statement. 

Scangos is in charge of the Biotechnology Industry Organization's coronavirus response. 

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In addition to Biogen pact, Vir earlier this month expanded its RNAi partnership with Alnylam to explore whether the technology might be able to address the novel coronavirus. Those companies had entered an infectious disease collaboration back in 2017. 

Vir’s latest move comes one day after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic. As of Thursday, global cases had climbed to 127,863 and deaths had surpassed 4,700, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker

RELATED: Alnylam, Vir team up to develop siRNAs to tackle COVID-19 

Amid that backdrop, the biopharma industry is scrambling to advance potential treatments or vaccines. Investigators around the world are looking at whether existing medicines might be able to help patients, and numerous companies have entered collaborations to work on new products. This week, Sanofi and Regeneron said they were gearing up to study arthritis med Kevzara in certain patients. Other drugmakers involved in the effort include Johnson & Johnson, Takeda, GlaxoSmithKline, Gilead, Novavax and Celltrion. 

But as the outbreak has affected operations for companies across industries, Biogen has been hit particularly hard. A meeting held by company management in late February is now tied to more than 80 cases of the novel coronavirus.