Categories Analysis, Health Care

INOVIO Pharmaceuticals expects results from initial trials for COVID-19 vaccine next month

The company had launched clinical studies into the coronavirus disease as early as in January, even before the name COVID-19 was coined

INOVIO Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INO), which is among the frontrunners in developing a vaccine for the coronavirus disease, said during its post-earnings conference call on Monday that the results from the initial trials of its vaccine candidate are expected in late June.

The company’s INO-4800 is a DNA medicine that is administered into cells through its proprietary CELLECTRA smart device. Once inside the cell, the plasmids help develop the required antigen. Notably, the drug’s development started in January, even before the pandemic had an official name and more than a month before it was termed a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

At pole position

INO-4800 is among the drugs that are at the forefront to take down COVID-19. Moderna’s mRNA-1273 (NASDAQ: MRN), which is currently in Phase 2, is the only candidate from the US that is ahead of INO-4800. Other key COVID-19 candidates include Pfizer’s BNT162, which is in Phase 1; Novavax’s (NASDAQ: NVAX) NVX-CoV2373, and Johnson & Johnson’s (NYSE: JNJ) unnamed drug, both of which are in pre-clinical stage.

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INOVIO’s candidate is currently in Phase 1, preliminary results for which are expected in late June. According to the Pennsylvania-based firm, vaccine design to human dosing was achieved in a short span of 83 days. Phase 2/3 trials are planned to be initiated in July or August, and this will happen alongside Phase 1 trials in China and South Korea.

So how is INOVIO’s product different? CEO Joseph Kim explained during the conference call:

We have long-term product dating around five years with two degree to eight degree Celsius refrigerated conditions. You can leave it in the ambient temperature for over a year and not lose any potency of the vaccine. So, it’s a true advantage over most of the mRNA or viral vectors or proteins, which have to maintain frozen cold chain throughout the distribution and storage conditions.”

Government funding

Importantly, the company’s COVID-19 initiatives are funded by government and non-government entities.  The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has so far granted $17.2 million to fund the research activities in the US and South Korea. This comes apart from a $5 million grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as the Department of Defense’s injection of $12 million into INOVIO’s partner Ology Bioservices. These fundings leave INOVIO with a comfortable balance sheet to run the program costs.

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Even though some of these organizations are also funding some rival firms – including Moderna, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson – their commitment acts as a source of trust in the firm. During the conference call, the management expressed their confidence in securing more funding from these entities in the coming days. The CEO said:

There are extensive amount of fundings available for promising vaccine candidates. There’s probably at least $15 billion to $20 billion in total funding available in both BARDA and CEPI and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. So, you know, as we make progress, I think the potential of INOVIO’s receiving these external funding, as we mentioned in our prepared remarks is very good.”

At the end of the day, investing in clinical-stage companies are speculative. It’s still early days to predict who would be the first to reach the market. But for investors who are closely watching the COVID-19 vaccine space, INOVIO is one that offers enormous potential and deserves space in the watchlist.

For more insights into INOVIO, read the latest earnings transcript here. It’s free!

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