Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO -6.21%) has been making a lot of headlines lately. Thanks to its efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the company's stock is up by 150% year to date.

However, turning ordinary investors into millionaires would require Inovio to provide market-beating returns year after year, and the company's performance over the past few months is not a guarantee of anything.

With that said, let's take a closer look at Inovio's business -- including its most promising pipeline candidates and its current financial position -- to figure out whether the biotech company has what it takes to sustain its recent stock performance in the long run. 

Inovio is racing to develop a vaccine for COVID-19

Inovio has been at the forefront of the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. On Jan. 10, the company developed a potential vaccine for the disease -- called INO-4800 -- in three hours after Chinese researchers released the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the illness. Inovio received a lot of help in its quest to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

Fortune teller wearing a suit sees a rising graph in a crystal ball.

Image Source: Getty Images.

For instance, Inovio teamed up with privately held Ology Bioservices, which focuses on the development and manufacturing of vaccines and biologics, and the two companies received a grant of $11.9 million from the Department of Defense (DOD) to expedite the manufacturing of its potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

On April 6, Inovio announced that it was starting a phase 1 clinical trial for INO-4800. The trial will involve up to 40 healthy adult volunteers, who will each receive two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart, and will test the safety of the vaccine as well as its ability to trigger an immune response in the body.

Could Inovio win the race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 and make a fortune off of it? It is hard to say, but it is worth noting that the company is currently trailing Moderna (MRNA 1.33%) in this race. On March 16, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) kicked off a phase 1 clinical trial for Moderna's investigational vaccine for COVID-19. This trial involves 45 healthy adult volunteers to test the safety of the vaccine, the amount that causes expected side effects, and its ability to trigger an immune response.

At this point, no one knows which company will be the first to develop a COVID-19 vaccine successfully. And even if Inovio wins this race, other companies could also manage to get their vaccines on the market soon after. 

Inovio's pipeline

Inovio, which focuses primarily on developing DNA medicines for the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases, has several other products in its pipeline. For instance, the company is currently developing a vaccine called VGX-3100 for vulval dysplasia, a precancerous condition caused by the human papillomavirus and characterized by unusual changes and lesions in the skin of the vulva. On March 30, Inovio reported encouraging interim results from a phase 2 clinical trial for VGX-3100.

The company collected data from 10 of the 22 individuals involved in the trial. This data showed that after six months of treatment, eight out of these 10 patients experienced a reduction "in qualifying lesion area" in the skin around the vulva. VGX-3100 is undergoing other clinical trials for the treatment of several other cancers (or precancerous conditions).

Inovio has other products that are currently in phase 2 testing, including MEDI0457, a potential treatment for head and neck cancer, and INO-5151, an investigational therapy for prostate cancer.

Financial position

Inovio doesn't have any products on the market, and the company is currently developing several vaccines and treatments. Thus, it isn't surprising that Inovio generates little revenue, and the company is currently unprofitable. For fiscal 2019, Inovio recorded total revenue of $4.1 million. The company also reported a loss from operations of $111.1 million and a net loss of $120.6 million. At the end of 2019, the company had $89.5 million in cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments.

Should you buy?

Inovio is subject to the same risks as other biotech companies, including regulatory hurdles or negative results from clinical trials. And while the company does boast some promising products, it is far too soon to know whether it can turn you into a millionaire, or even if the company will be a winner in the long run. For that reason, I think investors had better watch from the sidelines for now, as there are plenty of other promising biotech stocks to invest in.