Samsung scores $362M deal to help Vir scale up COVID-19 antibody production

Vir Biotechnology is betting big on its two novel antibodies' potential to treat COVID-19, locking down a range of manufacturing partners to help scale up. Now, in a third major deal, Vir and Samsung will work together to boost production if the treatment proves effective.

Vir and Samsung Biologics have inked a $362 million deal to scale up manufacturing of Vir's monoclonal antibody program as a potential treatment for COVID-19, the companies said Friday.

As part of the agreement, Samsung will start manufacturing as early as October with its first engineering run and potentially begin producing commercial batches starting in 2021 from its Plant 3 facility. The partners hope to knock out final terms of the deal by July 31.

Vir is aiming to move its two most promising COVID-19 antibodies, VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, into phase 2 testing within the next three to five months, the drugmaker said. The Samsung deal follows similar agreements Vir has signed with Wuxi Biologics and Biogen, as well as an expanded RNAi partnership with Alnylam.

"Given the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, our expectation is that there will be a significant need around the world for antibody therapies," Vir CEO George Scangos said in a release "Accordingly, we are taking proactive steps to reserve large scale manufacturing capacity to be ready to move quickly with any of our antibody candidates that prove to be clinically safe and effective."

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

Vir's manufacturing deal run started in late February when the drugmaker struck an agreement with Wuxi Biologics to scale up cell line development, process development and clinical manufacturing for its monoclonal antibodies.

As per its agreement, WuXi would receive commercial rights to a possible approved therapy in China while Vir retained exclusive rights in other countries.

In mid-March, Biogen and Vir signed a letter of intent for Biogen to work out cell line development and process development and handle clinical manufacturing for Vir's monoclonal antibodies. Before finalizing the details and in an unusual move, Vir and Biogen announced they had already begun working together.

RELATED: GSK becomes Vir's newest partner on COVID-19 treatments, vaccines

Vir plans to advance its two antibodies to phase 2 testing with the help of an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline announced earlier this week.

The duo's immediate focus will be on Vir's two novel antibodies but will eventually expand to identifying antiviral antibodies for preventive and therapeutic use in future outbreaks as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The partners will also combine their CRISPR screening and artificial intelligence capabilities, along with GSK’s functional genomics know-how, to pinpoint new anti-coronavirus compounds.

They’re looking for targets inside cells that, if inhibited, could prevent viral infection—something Vir has done with other viruses such as influenza and hepatitis B.

Meanwhile, last month, Vir 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.