Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO) announced on Tuesday that it has been awarded a $71 million Defense Department contract to assist it in ramping up production of its Cellectra 3PSP smart devices, and to purchase a quantity of its Cellectra 2000 devices. Both devices are used to deliver Inovio's experimental COVID-19 vaccine, INO-4800, into the skin.

The Cellectra 3PSP could be especially well-suited for the Defense Department's needs. It's a durable hand-held device that administers INO-4800 using an electrical field -- a method that allows the vaccine  to more easily and efficiently enter the patient's cells. The devices can be stockpiled without requiring maintenance. And INO-4800 could also be a good fit for the military, as it's the only nucleic-acid-based COVID-19 vaccine that doesn't have to be frozen for storage or transportation.

Gloved hands holding coronavirus vaccine bottles

Image source: Getty Images.

The contract was initiated by the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Enabling Biotechnologies, which takes the lead on providing medical solutions for the U.S. military during a crisis. In 2019, Inovio received $8.1 million in funding from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency's Medical CBRN Defense Consortium to develop the Cellectra 3PSP device. The company also received separate $5 million grants to test its Cellectra 3PSP device from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Inovio began phase 1 clinical testing of INO-4800 in April. It expects to report interim results from those studies by the end of June, and to begin phase 2/3 testing in July or August. CEO J. Joseph Kim said that the Defense Department contract announced on Tuesday "further supports Inovio's large-scale production of devices and arrays to deliver potentially hundreds of millions of doses of INO-4800 next year to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic."

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