As of Monday, more than 20 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, and close to 740,000 deaths have been attributed to it -- and epidemiological experts say both of those official numbers are almost certainly smaller than the real totals. Though it hasn't even been on humanity's radar for nine full months, the coronavirus is projected to cause $9 trillion in economic damage worldwide by the end of the year.
Fortunately, there are now 167 coronavirus vaccine candidates in development. If one or several of them work well, they could save an enormous number of lives and mitigate this economic catastrophe.
One of the leaders in the COVID-19 vaccine race is Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO). Last month, I wrote an article about why investors should give Inovio a chance based on the interim phase 1 results of its DNA coronavirus vaccine, INO-4800. The full phase 1 data released Monday showed that its efficacy is much better than expected. Without further ado, let's take a look at why Inovio's outlook will only become brighter from here.
A bright future
In its second-quarter earnings release, the company disclosed superb results for INO-4800. In the phase 1 trial, 100% of the 38 participants inoculated with it demonstrated increased levels of neutralizing antibodies and T-cell activity. (Neutralizing antibodies are small proteins that recognize certain pieces of a pathogen and prevent it from invading healthy cells, while T-cells are a part of the body's immune system that seek and destroy pathogens.)
Moreover, nearly 90% of participants developed significant T-cell responses and 95% showed meaningful antibody responses, all of which was comparable with those found with other experimental coronavirus vaccines. The vaccine was also well-tolerated, with no serious adverse events. The data is currently awaiting peer review.
More importantly, animal studies demonstrated that INO-4800 was able to produce an immune response against the D614G strain of coronavirus. That is very important, considering that D614G now accounts for more than 80% of the cases circulating worldwide.
Inovio expects to start phase 2/3 clinical trials for the vaccine in September. However, the U.S. government and some private foundations have already put funds behind its development and potential wide use. The Department of Defense awarded it $71 million to scale up the production of its Cellectra needle-free injector, which will be used to deliver the DNA vaccine directly into recipients' cells. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave it a $5 million grant for the same purpose. The company also received a $17.2 million award from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to support INO-4800's phase 1 clinical trial.
What's the verdict?
Inovio is expanding its manufacturing capacity with the goal of being able to produce up to 100 million doses of its vaccine in 2021. Even at a price of just $20 per dose, INO-4800 could potentially generate $2 billion in revenue for the company next year alone. For context, Inovio has a market cap of just $3 billion.
Currently, the company has about $215 million in cash and $156 million in investments. Meanwhile, its senior notes, convertible liabilities, and derivative liabilities amount to $65.8 million, $13.7 million, and $119.8 million, respectively.
The company's pre-tax loss for the past six months looks rather high at $161.4 million, but that figure is misleading. During that period, the company recognized fair-value adjustments of $119.8 million on its convertible bonds as its stock price went up. Factor out that non-cash item from the equation, and one can see that Inovio only used about $41.6 million worth of cash in the first half of 2020.
In other words, the company should have more than enough capital to offset its losses and liabilities. Investors should not expect further stock dilution from Inovio until its vaccine candidate reaches the end of its phase 2/3 clinical trial.
Overall, given that it has a COVID-19 vaccine candidate with strong potential, is in excellent financial health, and is getting aid from both Washington and private agencies, I see Inovio's future as auspicious. I view it as one of the top coronavirus stocks to buy for biotech investors.