What happened

Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO) shares soared 61.7% in April, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence, as the company began human trials of its coronavirus vaccine.

A researcher notes clinical trial data on a clipboard while a patient watches in the background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Inovio started a phase 1 trial of its DNA vaccine for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, early in April and completed enrollment of 40 healthy adults later in the month. The clinical stage company also said it expanded its agreement with Richter-Helm BioLogics GmbH & Co. of Germany to cover large-scale manufacturing of the vaccine. A grant of $1.3 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations will partially fund the manufacturing effort.

Inovio's investigational vaccines use optimized DNA plasmids. Through computer sequencing, these small circles of DNA are reorganized to produce a specific immune response in the body. Inovio then delivers these plasmids intradermally or intramuscularly through the company's own handheld smart device.

So what

The move into human testing is a big step for any of the players in this race to find a COVID-19 vaccine. Inovio is among the first of its peers to enter human trials. For this reason investors are optimistic the company may also be among the first to market -- if trial data is favorable.

Considering the extent of the coronavirus outbreak, with cases now topping 3.4 million worldwide, the first few companies to market with a vaccine or treatment are likely to make headlines. And along the way, share gains may continue.

Now what

Inovio said it expects interim safety and immune response data from the phase 1 trial in late June. Depending on that data, the company hopes to begin a phase 2/3 study this summer. Inovio said that it is on target to produce 1 million doses of its vaccine by the end of the year for further studies or emergency use. But Inovio said delivery of the doses will depend on external funding and guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Investors could expect further gains from Inovio with positive news on the COVID-19 vaccine program. But it's unclear if this company -- which doesn't have products on the market so far -- can maintain share gains well into the future.