(Bloomberg) -- Vir Biotechnology Inc., the collaborator with GSK Plc on a Covid-19 treatment, won a multiyear contract to help the US government prepare for future pandemics.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will initially invest $55 million to help develop Vir’s drug to prevent seasonal and pandemic influenza, the drugmaker said Tuesday in a statement. That will help cover the cost of an upcoming clinical trial that has been delayed for more than two years. The contract also allows for potential US investment of up to $1 billion for Vir to develop other infectious disease or medical countermeasure candidates.

The shares gained as much as 8.6% as of 10:23 a.m. in New York, their biggest intraday jump in almost three months.  

The flu drug, VIR-2482, is a monoclonal antibody designed to block all known strains of influenza A that have arisen since the one that caused the 1918 pandemic, as well as others that have been found in animals. It’s injected into the muscle like a typical flu shot, though it works differently. If it’s successful, VIR-2482 could potentially be given alongside a flu vaccine to elderly people and others at higher risk of severe illness.

“One of the important components of being prepared for the next pandemic is to have antibodies that can protect people that are ready to go,” said Vir Chief Executive Officer George Scangos. Quick availability could help stop or slow pandemics and “certainly save a lot of people from getting sick and dying,” he said.

Read More: After Pandemic Success, Vir Looks for a Follow-Up

Vir was days away from testing VIR-2482 when Covid-19 hit, bringing with it social-distance measures that temporarily reduced flu transmission, said Vir Chief Medical Officer Phil Pang. This year, a bad outbreak of seasonal flu in Australia presages an equally difficult one in the upcoming US winter.

“All the science points to a strong and robust flu season,” Pang said. 

Vir was founded in 2016 to tackle infectious diseases like hepatitis B. The Covid-19 pandemic gave the company a chance to prove itself, and its sotrovimab monoclonal antibody that was developed in collaboration with GSK outlasted other antibodies in staying effective against new virus strains. The BA.2 omicron subvariant eventually outmatched sotrovimab, prompting US regulators to withdraw authorization in April.

(Updates shares in third paragraph.)

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.