USA – Vir Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have collaborated to develop broadly neutralizing antibodies with a vaccinal effect for HIV treatment and malaria prevention.

According to a joint statement, the agreement is for an antibody research initiative focusing on a functional cure for HIV and malaria prevention.

A proof-of-concept clinical trial involving engineered antibodies designed to both inhibit viral replication and spread in HIV-infected people will be part of the initiative.

Furthermore, the partners will investigate whether these antibodies can provide a vaccine-like protective effect that could be used to achieve long-term HIV suppression without the use of more commonly used antiretroviral therapy.

As part of preclinical research, the same concept will be applied to malaria. The vaccinal antibody concept is currently being used across Vir’s pipeline of potential SARS-CoV-2 chronic hepatitis B virus and Influenza A product candidates, and will now be used to address other infectious diseases with a high impact in low- and middle-income countries.

The Gates Foundation has agreed to make a US$40 million equity investment as well as a US$10 million grant.

The program-related equity investment is being made through its US$2.5 billion Strategic Investment Fund, which aims to stimulate the private sector-driven innovation, encourage market-driven efficiencies, and attract external capital to priority global health and development initiatives that improve the health and wellbeing of underserved people around the world.

The fund’s financial returns are reinvested in Gates Foundation philanthropic programs.

Still on the HIV therapy front, ViiV Healthcare received a historic approval from the FDA last month for the first long-acting HIV-prevention injectable.

Apretude, the company’s treatment, is initially administered as two injections a month apart, then every two months thereafter.

Apretude will compete with Gilead’s well-established Truvada and its generic, as well as the California biotech’s newer Descovy.

Apretude, unlike the daily pills, is taken once every two months after the loading doses. In two phase 3 trials, the drug outperformed Gilead’s daily pill Truvada in preventing HIV infections in both men and women.

According to a company spokesperson, ViiV is selling Apretude at a wholesale acquisition cost of US$3,700 per vial. Apretude costs about the same or less than branded oral PrEP options due to its bimonthly dosing.

Prior to the PrEP approval, cabotegravir and Johnson & Johnson’s rilpivirine were approved by the FDA in January as Cabenuva to treat HIV patients.

GSK believes the cabotegravir franchise could generate more than £2 billion (US$ 2.72 billion) in sales by 2026, citing strong patient demand for long-acting HIV treatments.

That’s an ambitious goal given that Cabenuva only sold £18 million (US$24.48 million) in the first nine months of 2021. However, ViiV believes the franchise is just getting started.

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