Viral outbreaks require preparation on a variety of levels, especially from a therapeutics standpoint—as seen with COVID-19. That's why German biotech-CRO hybrid Evotec is launching a new program linking up resources across the antiviral therapeutics development chain to fight the “permanent global threat."
PRROTECT, which launched Tuesday, has lofty goals. Evotec wants to bring together a global network to create antiviral therapeutics, speed up R&D, build out a modality-agnostic pipeline and form a flexible manufacturing system that can handle quick delivery of therapeutics should another pandemic happen.
“We want to see the launch of PRROTECT as an open invitation to all interested network partners globally to join forces now, so that no generation has to experience the level of unpreparedness that we all suffered from in the last two years ever again,” said Evotec CEO Werner Lanthaler, Ph.D., in a statement.
Evotec has been working away on monoclonal antibody drugs to combat severe forms of COVID-19 with the help of an undisclosed amount of cash offered in October from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
With this new program, designed as an open pre-competitive network, Evotec hopes to develop next-gen therapeutics across small molecules, protein degraders, antibodies and immune modulators so the world can be prepared—if all goes well—for the next pandemic. Vaccines, which have slowed the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in many countries in recent months, will not be part of the program.
Evotec will use artificial intelligence and machine learning for rapid response efforts to expedite de novo R&D timelines of neutralizing antibodies. The program will also involve the pre-development of a multimodality pipeline of therapy candidates aimed at tackling the most threatening viruses known to the World Health Organization (WHO). Aside from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, WHO lists Ebola, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever and Zika, among others, as priorities.
PRROTECT—which stands for pandemic preparedness and rapid response technology platform—is expected to produce initial clinical data as early as 2022, Evotec said. The company is working with academic institutions, Big Pharma and others in the field of anti-infectives, with ongoing discussions for additional collaboration opportunities. The company declined to disclose names.
A collaborative approach between academic researchers and drug developers around the world “will be key” to “substantially curb” the impact of the next pandemic on human health, said Thomas Henke, Ph.D., Evotec executive vice president and head of academic partnerships, in a statement.
In the anti-infective space, Evotec has inked partnerships in the past with other pharmas. Evotec and Haplogen signed a collaboration agreement to work on small-molecule drugs to fight viral infectious diseases in November 2012. The companies added to that agreement in August 2018 when Haplogen began a multiyear drug discovery and development deal with Bayer. The German Big Pharma now gets exclusive license to worldwide rights on the programs emerging from the Evotec-Haplogen collaboration.
Evotec picked up Sanofi's infectious disease unit for $70 million and last year penned an anti-infective collaboration with HitGen.