BIO Taps George Scangos to Helm Response to Coronavirus Outbreak
On the same day the White House tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead the government response to the coronavirus, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) tapped George Scangos to head up its own response to the outbreak, which causes the COVID-19 disease.
Scangos, who currently helms Vir Biotechnology, is expected to coordinate the industry’s response to the increasing coronavirus threat, Reuters reported Friday. The news of Scangos’ appointment came one day ahead of the second reported coronavirus-related fatality in the United States. The naming of Scangos, the former chief executive officer of Biogen, as the industry’s coronavirus czar, was announced a few days after Vir inked a deal with China-based WuXi Biologics to develop human monoclonal antibodies for the potential treatment of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019), a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.
In a brief interview with Reuters, Scangos said the parameters of the BIO role are still evolving. However, with the increasing concern about the global spread of COVID-19, Scangos said “it is clear someone needs to pick up the reins.” Scangos pointed to the work being performed by his startup Vir, which launched in 2017, that is focused on developing treatments and preventions for challenging infectious diseases.
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“It is natural for us here at Vir to take on a leadership role,” Scangos told Reuters.
In its own research, Vir has identified a number of monoclonal antibodies that bind to SARS-CoV-2. These antibodies were isolated from individuals who had survived a SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) infection, the company said. Vir and WuXi will conduct research to determine if these antibodies or additional antibodies could be later identified, will be effective as treatment and/or prophylaxis against SARS-CoV-2.
“We are acutely aware of the importance of moving rapidly in response to COVID-19,” Scangos said in a statement following the partnership with WuXi. “In the event that we are in a position to develop an antibody therapy, our agreement with WuXi Biologicsenables us to accelerate advancement against this global threat.”
Under the terms of the agreement between Vir and WuXi, they will work together on the clinical development, manufacturing and potential commercialization of Vir’s proprietary antibodies. WuXi will conduct cell-line development, process and formulation development and initial manufacturing for clinical development. If the antibodies receive regulatory approvals, WuXi then has the right to commercialize therapies in China, and Vir has the right to commercialize therapies in all other markets worldwide.
A spokesperson for BIO said about 40 member companies have reached out to offer their expertise to the coronavirus response. About 20 companies are currently researching therapeutics, vaccines or diagnostics that target the virus, Reuters noted.
According to the latest figures, there are about 89,253 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 across the globe, with about 86 in the United States. More than half of the cases have recovered, about 45,394, according to the latest figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. There have been 3,048 virus-related deaths, including two in the U.S., both in Washington State, where officials are discovering numerous cases of the virus, as well as others who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, NPR reported this morning.