Yet another biotech has joined the fray against the novel coronavirus: Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY) and Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ:VIR) on Wednesday announced they were expanding their ongoing collaboration to include an attempt to develop RNA interference (RNAi) treatments for SARS-CoV-2.

According to the American Society for Microbiology, coronaviruses are everywhere. They are the second-leading cause of the common cold, after rhinoviruses. In an article on the society's website, Dr. Rodney Rhode wrote, "Coronaviruses ... mutate and change at a high rate, which can create havoc for both diagnostic detection as well as therapy (and vaccine) regimens."

stethoscope and medical equipment

Image source: Getty Images

The two companies have been collaborating since the 2017 founding of Vir, which specializes in using immunology to fight and prevent infectious diseases. Vir CEO George Scangos was the CEO of Biogen before he took control of the start-up.

"Given the scope and speed of the COVID-19 outbreak," Scangos said, "Vir is seeking multiple approaches that combine our expertise in infectious disease with that of current and new partners to respond rapidly. Alnylam has been an excellent partner, and our complementary capabilities made this a compelling opportunity..."

As Alnylam CEO John Maraganore said, "We believe RNAi therapeutics represent a promising approach for targeting coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2. As the leader in RNAi therapeutics, we at Alnylam are committed to doing our part in joining other biopharmaceutical companies, like Vir, to address this emerging outbreak." 

Vir will lead all development and commercialization of any selected drug molecules. Alnylam retains the option to share in the profits and losses associated with the effort. Shares of Vir were up 14% in early trading Wednesday, while Alnylam was up 3%. 

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