What happened

Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO 0.36%) shares fell 27.9% in July, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence, after the company reported interim data from its phase 1 coronavirus vaccine trial.

Trial results weren't negative, but some investors were disappointed about the lack of detail concerning neutralizing antibodies. Neutralizing antibodies block infection, so are viewed as an essential part of a coronavirus vaccine. In its report on June 30, Inovio said 94% of trial participants showed immune response. That was measured by data on binding and neutralizing antibodies as well as T-cell responses. But Inovio didn't provide neutralizing antibody levels or compare them to the levels found in recovered coronavirus patients.

A researcher's gloved hand holds a vial labeled "coronavirus vaccine"

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Inovio is one of 26 companies and research centers whose coronavirus vaccine candidates have entered human trials. Six of those companies have already moved along to phase 3 trials. Inovio expects to begin a phase 2/3 study this summer.

Companies including Moderna (MRNA 1.58%) and AstraZeneca (AZN 0.46%) have reported more detailed phase 1 data, pushing them a step ahead of Inovio in the eyes of some investors. They also both spoke specifically about neutralizing antibody levels. And they both are involved in phase 3 trials, meaning they are a step ahead of Inovio from a timeline perspective, too.

Inovio also has benefited less than rivals when it comes to government investment. Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government's initiative to help bring a vaccine to market by January, has invested billions of dollars in companies including Moderna and AstraZeneca. The initiative so far hasn't funded Inovio's program. Separately, the Department of Defense awarded Inovio $71 million toward the manufacturing of its Cellectra device, used to administer the potential coronavirus vaccine.

Now what

Investors will watch for news on the launch of Inovio's phase 2/3 study as well as further data from the earlier study. The company said it would publish a complete report in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Inovio shares have gained 560% so far this year. More detailed trial data -- from phase 1 and the upcoming later-stage study -- and any potential news on funding are two important elements. They may drive the price of this biotech stock as the coronavirus vaccine race continues.