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GSK, Vir Biotech to expand COVID-19 research partnership for other diseases

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FILE PHOTO: Company logo of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is seen at their Stevenage facility
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By Rebecca Spalding

(Reuters) - GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology Inc will expand an existing partnership developing antibody therapies for COVID-19 to other diseases, the companies said on Wednesday.

As a part of the deal to research and develop monoclonal antibody treatments for influenza and other respiratory illnesses, GSK will make a further $120 million equity investment in Vir and an additional upfront payment of $225 million.

Shares of San Francisco-based Vir, which is run by former Biogen Inc Chief Executive Officer George Scangos, rose 12.4% before the opening bell.

The companies announced a partnership last year to research COVID-19 treatments. Unlike vaccines, antibody treatments are designed to be given to patients who have been diagnosed with the illness, with the aim of decreasing the severity of the disease.

One of the companies' experimental therapies for COVID-19 is currently being studied in two global final-stage trials. Results from one of these studies are expected in the first quarter of 2021.

The pandemic has spurred large pharma companies' interest in researching new ways to combat infectious pathogens, including influenza.

The effectiveness of standard flu vaccines varies year to year based on how well researchers are able to predict that season's dominant strains months in advance.

The effectiveness of the vaccine can also vary depending on the age of the recipient and other factors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The companies said they would work to further develop Vir's experimental treatment for influenza A, one of the viruses that causes flu.

GSK and Vir said people 65 and older with underlying conditions have a higher risk of dying of the virus and historically, vaccines have had lower efficacy in this group.

(Reporting by Rebecca Spalding in New York; Additional reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Shounak Dasgupta)

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