Inovio stock spikes on Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine speed-up

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San Diego company Inovio is trying to develop a "universal" vaccine that would work against swine flu, bird flu or new types of influenza that emerge.

San Diego company Inovio is trying to develop a “universal” vaccine that would work against swine flu, bird flu or new types of influenza that emerge. (Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc.)

Shares of Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., the genetic vaccine company, hit a four-year high Wednesday, rising as much as 16% to $9.40 a share before subsiding in the afternoon, after the Plymouth Meeting company laid out a faster timetable for rushing a vaccine to protect people against the COVID-19 coronvirus.

If the DNA vaccine INO-4800 vaccine, based on technology developed at David B. Weiner’s lab at Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, passes animal and human trials, Inovio hopes to have a million doses delivered by the end of the year for further trials or emergency use.

To do this, the company plans to finalize clinical trial designs this month and begin human trials in April with 30 U.S. volunteers. Trials will soon be expanded that month to a total of 3,000 patients, mostly in more hard-hit South Korea and China.

The World Health Organization says over 3,000 of the 95,000 people diagnosed with the contagious disease have died since it was identified in Wuhan, China in December.

The company’s efforts to develop pandemic vaccines, delivered into skin cells by an electrified probe, for fearsome diseases including Ebola, HIV and MERS, have not yet been rewarded with large sales, and the firm routinely spends more of its backers’ cash than it collects in revenues. So the promise of a spike in sales encouraged investors. The stock closed Wednesday at $8.02, up 57 cents or 7.72%.

A Monday meeting with President Trump and his aides included top executives from genetic drugmaker Regeneron, Johnson & Johnson, and other companies, as well as Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He gave a timeline of 12 to 18 months for the development of an effective vaccine, the Washington Post reported.

Regeneron founder Leonard Schleifer said his company aimed to have 200,000 doses ready by August, “That means you’d be able to use the vaccine that early?” asked the President, comparing the timetable favorably to another company’s. No, the CEO responded, the treatment would need more testing at that point.

Inovio’s speeded-up timeline was also presented at the White House meeting.

“Using our modern DNA medicines platform, we designed our DNA vaccine INO-4800 in three hours after the publication of the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus” by China on Jan. 10, Kim said in a statement, released Tuesday.

“We immediately began preclinical testing and small-scale manufacture” and have already shared data with the company’s university, public health and manufacturing partners, he added. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a Norway-based consortium, has pledged $9 million to Inovio’s effort in partnership with Beijing Advaccine Biotechnology Co. The consortium is backed by Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Economic Forum, and the governments of Norway, Germany, Japan and India.

But “we will need additional resources” to protect Americans, Kim added.

Unlike traditional vaccines, which contain killed or weakened forms of the virus in question, genetic vaccines contain genes that instruct cells to make a protein that defends against that virus.

There are other COVID-19 vaccines in the works, including one developed at a Johnson & Johnson lab in the Netherlands.

(Staff writer Tom Avril contributed to this report.)

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