Evotec has secured yet another contract from the Department of Defense (DOD). This time, the U.S. government is committing $74 million for the development of monoclonal antibodies against mpox, chickenpox and smallpox.
The German biotech-CRO hybrid company’s Seattle-based unit, called Just - Evotec Biologics, is in receipt of the contract for the “rapid development” of prototype candidates to target orthopoxviruses. The unit will oversee development from discovery through phase 1, including harnessing AI to develop brand-new antibodies as well as evaluate existing candidates, Evotec said in a July 5 release.
This will involve leveraging Evotec Biologics' J.DESIGN CDMO platform, which is currently used for discovering and designing antibodies, as well as helping Evotec’s clients streamline their own manufacturing processes. The hope is that the finished products can be held by the DOD as part of its medical countermeasures against outbreaks of orthopoxviruses, a family of viruses that include smallpox, cowpox, horsepox, camelpox and mpox, previously known as monkeypox.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that despite cases of mpox declining in the U.S. since a peak in August 2020, “the outbreak is not over.” A total of over 30,000 cases of the disease have been reported to date in the country, said the CDC, with only 23% of the estimated population at risk for mpox being fully vaccinated with Bavarian Nordic’s approved Jynneos vaccine.
While vaccines are also available for some other orthopoxviruses, such as variola and cowpox, there is currently no approved antibody treatment for infections caused by these viruses, Evotec noted.
Evotec is not the only company looking at ways to toughen defenses against mpox outbreaks. Last month, Moderna executives explained that their previously sidelined mpox vaccine candidate is now a priority, with human trials expected to start this summer.
This is not the first time the DOD has turned to Evotec to help bolster its arsenal of virus countermeasures, either. In 2020, the agency tapped the Hamburg, Germany-based company to develop monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19. It again sought out Evotec in September 2022 for a $50 million contract to develop antibodies that target the bacterium Yersinia pestis—otherwise known as the bubonic plague.