What happened

Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO 2.81%), a pre-revenue vaccine company, saw its shares rise by as much as 10% in pre-market trading Monday morning. The biotech's shares appear to be responding to the news that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will donate $25 million to Bill Gates' accelerator program designed to speed up the development of various COVID-19 therapies. 

Inovio is currently developing a COVID-19 vaccine called INO-4800. The vaccine is slated to begin human trials next month. Top-line data from this highly anticipated trial should be available this fall, according to the company. While it will likely take years to get a full regulatory approval for any vaccine, Inovio plans on having 1 million doses of INO-4800 available for emergency purposes before the end of the year. 

Close up image of the novel coronavirus.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Inovio has so far received a $9 million grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, as well as a $5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to advance INO-4800 into clinical trials. So there is definitely a fair amount of interest from these organizations in this experimental COVID-19 vaccine. As such, Inovio might be in line to receive a slice of the $25 million Chan Zuckerberg Initiative donation.  

Now what

Is Inovio's stock a top COVID-19 play? While Inovio does have a strong track record of hauling in grant money for its experimental vaccines in general, the real needle-moving event with this biotech stock will no doubt be the upcoming late-stage readout for the company's lead product candidate VGX-3100. In short, investors probably shouldn't buy this stock solely for its tie-in to the pandemic. INO-4800, after all, is only a small piece of the company's overall value proposition.