Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO -2.92%) was just given a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the testing and scaling-up of production of a device designed to deliver the company's candidate coronavirus vaccine. Shares of Inovio were up 11% at 1:49 p.m. EDT.

Unlike traditional vaccines, which use inactivated viruses to stimulate an immune response, Inovio's vaccine technology creates optimized DNA plasmids, which are delivered into patients' cells, where, the company says, the DNA "is translated into proteins that activate an individual's immune system to generate a robust targeted T cell and antibody response."

Inovio's SARS-CoV-2 contender, INO-4800, hasn't been tested on humans yet. Earlier this month, the company said it plans to start clinical trials of the vaccine next month. But Inovio has shown that its approach does create antibodies against other viruses. The company's lead candidate, VGX-3100, is in phase 3 trials for patients with precancerous cervical dysplasia, which is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Blood sample with positive for coronavirus label

Image source: Getty Images.

Why a device is needed

The difference between Inovio's vaccines and traditional ones also means they have to be delivered differently. The DNA vaccines must  be delivered intradermally -- between the layers of the skin -- thus the need for a special device. Inovio has developed its next-generation Cellectra 3PSP specifically to deliver INO-4800. It's portable and runs on AA batteries, allowing for easy use in clinics.

Inovio plans to make the devices in its San Diego facility, but anticipates the need to farm some manufacturing out to contract manufacturers in order to get substantial quantities of them built rapidly. The company aims to have 1 million doses of INO-4800 and the devices to deliver them ready by the end of this year.