SmartPharm Therapeutics announced that it has been awarded a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency co-funded by the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense to develop a rapid countermeasure to COVID-19. The contract would provide SmartPharm up to $34M for development through Phase 2 clinical studies of a gene-encoded antibody that could enable rapid protection from and/or treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19. Sorrento will seek further funding in support of the COVID Gene MAb program toward EUA approval and large-scale manufacturing pending successful clinical studies. For this Gene MAb approach, the SmartPharm/Sorrento team will produce plasmid DNA encoding the SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibody STI-2020. The FDA is currently reviewing IND filings for STI-2020 as an IV-delivered neutralizing antibody and STI-2099 as an intranasal-delivered neutralizing antibody for the treatment of COVID-19. The expected higher potency of the STI-2020 antibody makes it an ideal candidate for Gene MAb delivery against COVID-19. The DARPA/JPEO contract supports the accelerated development of a Gene MAbs neutralizing antibody that can be delivered by a simple intramuscular injection, enabling the recipient to produce the protective antibody, potentially within days of the injection. Such an approach would permit the rapid translation of fully characterized potent neutralizing antibodies into clinical use, which Sorrento believes will be important for responding to potential mutations of SARS-CoV-2 that may emerge. It would also enable broader deployment of the Gene MAb approach as a prophylactic solution, as it can be conveniently administered into the muscle like an annual flu vaccine. If successful, it could provide an alternative method of protecting populations where vaccines do not work as well, such as the elderly or immunocompromised.