New Biotech Company Aims to Take Down Infectious Diseases


A new biotechnology company, Vir Biotechnology, is gunning for bear in the fight against infectious diseases and boasting a roster of heavy hitters in the industry.

To paraphrase Sylvester Stallone’s character in “Rambo,” if you have the disease, they’ll have the cure.

Indeed, a new biotech firm has entered the fray with, to date, some vaguely stated public goals, as well as a product pipeline heavy on promise and light on specifics with a strong bench of top-level researchers and pharmaceutical executives. The startup in question, Vir Biotechnology, is based in San Francisco, and its executive team includes such heavy-hitters as Phil Pang, MD, PhD, the firm’s vice president-clinical, who was part of the team at Gilead Sciences that helped the combination hepatitis C treatment, sofosbuvir/ledipasivir, receive US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval; fellow Gilead alum Jay Parrish, PhD, who has extensive experience in the infectious disease arena; and scientific advisers Larry Corey, MD, who serves as principal investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network; Jeff Bluestone, PhD, who serves as president and CEO of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and is the A.W. and Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor of Metabolism and Endocrinology in the University of California San Francisco; Emilio Emini, PhD, who formerly served as the director of the HIV program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Louis Picker, MD, of Oregon Health and Science University.

The company’s Board of Directors includes Phil Sharp, PhD, who serves as an institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; Klaus Frueh, PhD, is a professor and senior scientist at the Oregon Health and Science University; Tom Daniel, MD, former president of research and early development at Celgene; and Vicki L. Sato, PhD, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and an affiliate member of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at Harvard University.

Vir, which is cofounded by Drs. Corey, Frueh, and Picker, as well as venture capitalist Robert Nelsen, announced on January 6th that former Biogen CEO George A. Scangos, PhD, will serve as its CEO. In addition to Nelsen’s company, ARCH Venture Partners, the Gates Foundation is listed as a “lead investor.”

According to a statement released at the time of Dr. Scangos’ appointment, Vir was formed with the goal of developing “cures, treatments, and preventions for challenging infectious diseases… and will seek to apply immune programming at an unprecedented scale… to manipulate pathogen-host interactions.”

“The scale and scope we envision for Vir will allow us to fund targeted academic research, ramp our own research and development efforts, and write individual checks of up to $100 million to in-license innovative technology platforms and novel clinical assets from biotech and pharmaceutical companies," Nelsen said in the statement.

Added Dr. Scangos, “There is a tremendous global need for effective therapies and preventions for infectious diseases of considerable public health importance. The science has matured to a point where exciting new approaches are at hand, and there is a need for a company to pursue those approaches with excellence, critical mass and scale. Vir is that company, and I am very excited to take on a leadership role.”

The company did not respond to email requests for additional comment.

Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.

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