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    Cambridge biotech strikes deal with startup led by former Biogen CEO

    Biogen Idec chief executive George Scangos founded San Francisco-based Vir Biotechnology Inc.
    Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe file
    Biogen Idec chief executive George Scangos founded San Francisco-based Vir Biotechnology Inc.

    A Cambridge biopharmaceutical company is teaming up with a California startup to develop and market single-dose medicines to prevent and treat infectious diseases, including the flu.

    Visterra Inc. said Wednesday that it has inked a licensing agreement with San Francisco-based Vir Biotechnology Inc., which was founded this year by George A. Scangos. He ran Cambridge-based Biogen Inc. from 2010 through 2016 and is a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry.

    Under the agreement, decade-old Visterra has received an upfront payment. The company declined to disclose the amount. Vir will license as many as five programs that Visterra is working on to prevent and treat infectious diseases such as influenza A and severe fungal infections.


    Visterra is eligible to receive more than $1 billion in payments if it meets development, regulatory, and sales goals.

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    Licensing deals in the biotech industry often include the promise of such “biobucks,” which pay out if an experimental drug reaches certain milestones along the path to commercialization. If an investigational drug fizzles out, as they often do, the payout never materializes.

    “We are very pleased that Vir has chosen to partner with Visterra, and this collaboration will accelerate the advancement of our promising research programs focused on treating and preventing infectious diseases,” said Dr. Brian J.G. Pereira, chief executive of Visterra.

    Visterra has developed a drug discovery tool that it calls Hierotope. The tool enables scientists to engineer antibodies that target a particular site on a virus or bacteria, according to David Arkowitz, the company’s chief operating officer.

    Visterra is focusing on diseases like the flu, which every year results in the hospitalization of about 400,000 Americans and leads to about 50,000 deaths, particularly of people with compromised immune systems, said Arkowitz. Visterra is working on a single-dose treatment that flu patients in the hospital would receive intravenously.


    Scangos said Visterra’s technologies have shown “great potential” and that company officials were “pleased to work together to advance them through the clinic and ultimately to patients.”

    Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at