There have been more than 20 million coronavirus cases and 749,000 COVID-19-related deaths worldwide. The U.S. alone has recorded 5 million cases and 169,000 related deaths. Before life, and the economy, can return to normal, a safe and effective vaccine must be made widely available.
Biotech companies are currently in a tight race to develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 disease. According to the World Health Organization, there were 165 novel coronavirus vaccine candidates in development as of the end of July. U.S.-based biotech company Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO) is one of them, and its stock has soared 336% as of Aug. 11, compared with the SPDR S&P 500 ETF's return of 4.6%. Let's take a look at its vaccine's progress and determine whether it's a good coronavirus buy.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals' vaccine progress
Inovio is developing a DNA coronavirus vaccine candidate called INO-4800. In January, when the pandemic picture was still hazy and the virus's devastating effect was limited to China, Inovio announced it had received a $9 million grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine candidate for SARS-CoV-2. The funding would support the vaccine's "preclinical and clinical development through phase 1 human testing of INO-4800."
In its second-quarter results, announced Aug. 10, Inovio provided an update on the progress of the vaccine showing positive interim clinical data for the phase 1 trial. The results revealed the vaccine was safe and well tolerated, with "no reported serious adverse events (SAEs)."
The company plans to begin the phase 2/3 clinical trial for its vaccine in September. The two-stage trial will "assess the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of INO-4800 in 40 healthy adults aged 19-50 years in the phase 1 portion, and will further expand to enroll an additional 120 people aged 19-64 years in the phase 2 portion."
The company ended the quarter with cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments of $371.7 million and is now expanding its manufacturing capacity to be able to produce at least 100 million doses of INO-4800 in 2021 with the help of global funders including the Department of Defense, CEPI, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What about other drugs in its pipeline?
Inovio also has other drugs in its pipeline that could make its revenue numbers surge -- once they're approved. Its lead candidate, VGX-3100, for the treatment of HPV-related precancerous cervical dysplasia, is in a phase 3 clinical trial. The company expects to reveal top-line efficacy data by the fourth quarter of 2020. Inovio's other promising candidate is INO-5401, for treating glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer. That one is in a phase 1/2 clinical trial. The company has seen promising results in the trial and expects to reveal 18-month overall survival data by the fourth quarter of this year as well.
Inovio reported revenue of $267,000 for the second quarter, compared with $136,000 in the year-ago period. Its net losses for the quarter were $128.7 million, versus $29.4 million in Q2 2019. The discrepancy was mostly because of a change in fair value for derivative liabilities.
It also has another 15 experimental DNA medicine programs in clinical development, any of which, if successful, could be fruitful for the company.
Is Inovio a good investment?
If you look at the potential of the company aside from coronavirus vaccine development, Inovio's other pipeline drugs are still in the testing phase. They could garner revenue when approved -- but that could take years.
In my opinion, investing in the biotech stocks that are part of the vaccine development race is a good choice for aggressive investors. But many factors are at play here, including whether the vaccine fails the next trial, whether it receives regulatory approval, or whether another company makes a vaccine before Inovio. These factors could pull down the stock at any stage. But if you believe that high reward comes with high risk, Inovio might be the coronavirus stock for you.