Inovio Pharmaceuticals' (INO 0.25%) SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate, INO-4800, is only in phase 1 development, but the biotech is already preparing to produce it at scale through a partnership with the German contract manufacturer Richter-Helm BioLogics.

The biotech has been working with Richter-Helm BioLogics since 2014 to manufacture its human papillomavirus vaccine, VGX-3100, which was developed using the same DNA medicine platform as INO-4800. The coronavirus vaccine being tested in the phase 1 clinical trial was manufactured by VGXI, but Richter-Helm BioLogics uses the same technology (which VGXI developed). Many drugs have been manufactured first at VGXI, and then transferred to Richter-Helm when the time came to produce them in commercial quantities, so the technology transfer and scale-up should be fairly routine.

Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is chipping in $1.3 million through a grant to Inovio to help ramp up production. CEPI has been supporting the development of INO-4800 since January, contributing a total of $17.2 million to the project including the recent manufacturing grant.

Gloved hands giving an injection into a shoulder

Image source: Getty Images.

Inovio hopes to advance INO-4800 into a combined phase 2/3 clinical trial this summer. The company plans to have 1 million doses of the potential coronavirus vaccine available by the end of 2020.

While it's great to see Inovio working at a rapid pace to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, investors should keep in mind that the company has lots of competition -- around 70 candidate vaccines are in development for the novel coronavirus. Moderna's (MRNA -0.74%) candidate, mRNA-1273, is further along -- it's ready to go into a phase 2 clinical trial as soon as the Food and Drug Administration signs off.