Under the grant, Evotec says it aims to discover and develop RNA-targeting small molecules as potential first-in-class therapeutics against Henipaviruses.
Henipavirus is a genus of zoonotic viruses, which means they were transmitted from animals to humans, and they can cause fatal encephalitis in humans. The genus comprises six different established species including Hendra virus and Nipah virus, from which it receives its name.
The World Health Organization lists henipaviral agents as research and development Blueprint priority pathogens, indicating their pandemic potential. Currently there are no approved drugs or vaccines for neither Hendra nor Nipah virus infections available underlining an urgent need for accelerated research and development.
Under the grant, Evotec will leverage its RNA-targeting small molecules (rSM) platform to identify promising RNA sequences to target with small molecule ligands that can be developed into potentially first-in-class therapeutics.
Dr Werner Lanthaler, chief executive officer of Evotec, said: “Mission-driven foundations are key for our long-term strategy. This is the first time that we have been supported by Open Philanthropy and we are very excited about this opportunity. The grant will enable us to pursue an innovative RNA-targeting approach to address the pandemic challenges posed by Henipaviruses. Through PRROTECT, (Evotec’s pandemic Preparedness and Rapid RespOnse TEChnology platform) we strive to make a meaningful contribution to achieve targets set under the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No 3 and make new, safe and effective treatment options available for these pandemic threats.”
Henipavirus is a genus of viruses in the family Paramyxoviridae, containing six established species. They derive their name from two of these species, Nipah virus and Hendra virus. They were first identified in the mid-1990s. Infection in humans causes a range of illnesses, from asymptomatic infection (subclinical) to acute respiratory infection and fatal encephalitis.
Nipah virus outbreaks in India and Bangladesh have occurred with high case fatality estimated at 40% to 75%. This rate can vary by outbreak depending on local capabilities for epidemiological surveillance and clinical management. Although Nipah virus has caused only a few known outbreaks in Asia, it infects a wide range of animals and causes severe disease and death in people, making it a public health concern. There is no treatment or vaccine available and the primary treatment for humans is supportive care. Therefore, Nipah virus is one of the pathogens in the WHO R&D Blueprint list of epidemic threats needing urgent R&D action.