Inovio’s $71 million deal with The Department of Defense for coronavirus vaccine

Inovio researcher in San Diego working on the vaccine.
Inovio Researcher doing work in a lab.

On Tuesday, June 23rd, Inovio Pharmaceuticals had struck a deal with The Department of Defense. Inovio’s $71 million deal is in regards to their coronavirus vaccine and the devices used to administer them. Inovio was granted this money despite being left out of the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed.

The Vaccine

Inovio’s been researching and developing their vaccine since April. The vaccine, called INO-4800, is based on DNA technology. This is a parallel to the RNA technology most coronavirus vaccine developers are using. Front-running companies in the race for a vaccine like Moderna and Pfizer are using RNA technology.

Each phase of vaccine testing exposes more volunteers to the virus. Typically starting out at a few participants, the trials work their way up to about 30,000. Inovio tested 40 healthy adults in their Phase 1 trials. These trials went well. According to Inovio, the “vaccine prompts the body’s immune system to drive a robust immune response”. With the full results coming by the end of the month, they’re on track with other vaccine developers.

Inovio has one of the 13 COVID-19 vaccines in human trials, according to the WHO. 130 vaccines are in the preclinical stages. Plans are in place for Phase 2/3 to start in July. Working with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), these trials will take place in South Korea.

The Devices

Inovio's device to adminster the coronavirus vaccine.
PRNewsfoto | INOVIO Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Inovio is not only developing a vaccine, but they are also working on devices that will administer it. These put together will allow for needle-less injections. The device is called the Cellectra 3PSP.

These devices are used to administer INO-4800 directly into the skin through pores created by a small electric field. They have many advantages. According to Inovio, it is a “small, portable, hand-held, user-friendly device that runs on “AA” batteries”. Secondly, they’re able to be stockpiled in large quantities without maintenance. This is important as Dr. J Joseph Kim, Inovio’s president and CEO has said that “The current DoD contract further supports INOVIO’s large-scale production of devices and arrays to deliver potentially hundreds of millions of doses of INO-4800 next year to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic”. The company is going to stand out among other potential vaccines by not having many limitations that typical vaccines do.

The company’s San Diego manufacturing facility has made an initial amount of the device. As a result, the facility has shown how the job could be outsourced to other manufacturers. Experts agree that many vaccines will be necessary to meet demand, but this will definitely help.

About Inovio and the DoD deal

Inovio was founded in 1979. They aspire to find DNA medicines for many diseases, such as cancer, Ebola, AIDS, and more. The biotech company is based in Pennsylvania with a manufacturing facility in San Diego.

Having already received a collective $10 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Inovio has been working on the vaccine for a while.

Inovio reported to FOX that they had created the vaccine three hours after getting access to the genetic sequence in January. Joseph Kim commented “We were able to rapidly construct our vaccine in a matter of about three hours once we had the DNA sequence from the virus available because of the power of our DNA medicine platform”.

As part of the $71 million deal with the Department of Defense, they will receive some Cellectra 2000 devices.

A group of analysts predict that the Food and Drug Administration will authorize “at least one” vaccine by November 3rd.

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