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Why Inovio's Positive Q4 Update Didn't Impress Investors

By Keith Speights - Mar 2, 2021 at 6:02AM

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Better-than-expected top- and bottom-line results weren't enough.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO 4.05%) shares are up nearly 25% year to date. That's great -- except the stock was up more than 90% in early February.

Investors hoping for good news got some with Inovio's fourth-quarter update after the market closed on Monday. However, the biotech stock still slipped more than 5% at one point in after-hours trading. What happened?

Healthcare blurred out in the background behind a box full of COVID-19 vaccine vials.

Image source: Getty Images.

By the numbers

Let's start with Inovio's Q4 results. The company reported revenue of $5.6 million, a huge jump from revenue of only $279,000 in the prior-year period. This result also blew past the average analyst estimate of $1.11 million.

Inovio announced a net loss in the fourth quarter of $24.3 million, or $0.14 per share. This reflected significant improvement from the company's net loss in the prior-year period of $37.7 million, or $0.38 per share. It also was better than the Wall Street consensus estimate of a net loss of $0.22 per share.

The biotech's cash position also looked much better than it did a year ago. Inovio Inovio ended the fourth quarter with cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments totaling $411.6 million. This was up from a cash stockpile of $89.5 million as of the end of 2019.

Beyond the numbers

Quite frankly, investors really don't care all that much about Inovio's financial results. Beating analysts' top- and bottom-line estimates when revenue is only a few million dollars doesn't matter very much.

However, Inovio did have some other big news. The company reported that VGX-3100 met the primary and secondary endpoints in a late-stage study targeting pre-cancerous cervical dysplasia. In the primary endpoint of histopathological regression of high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL) combined with virologic clearance of human papillomavirus (HPV)-16 and/or HPV-18, 23.7% of patients receiving VGX-3100 responded compared to 11.3% in the placebo group.

Inovio also stated that there weren't any treatment-related serious adverse events in the late-stage study. It noted that most of the adverse events that did occur were "self-resolving and were considered to be mild to moderate."

With good (albeit not really meaningful) Q4 results along with positive results for VGX-3100, why did the stock fall? Perhaps because many investors are focused most heavily on Inovio's COVID-19 vaccine candidate INO-4800 and didn't like what they heard on that front.

Inovio expects to finish its phase 2 study of INO-4800 in the second quarter. The company reiterated that it expects to resolve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues related to the Cellectra device used to administer the vaccine by the time the phase 2 portion of the study wraps up. Until those issues are resolved, Inovio won't be able to advance INO-4800 into pivotal late-stage testing.

The company also said that it's evaluating the impact of new coronavirus variants on INO-4800. In addition, Inovio announced that it's developing next-generation vaccine candidates that could target both current and future coronavirus variants.

Looking ahead

What's in store for Inovio? There are wildly different views, to say the least.

Oppenheimer analyst Hartaj Singh thinks that Inovio could more than triple within the next 12 months. My Motley Fool colleague Sean Williams, on the other hand, reflected the opinion of many naysayers with his recent article referring to Inovio as a "dangerous" stock to avoid.

Both of those perspectives can't be right. We'll probably have to wait until Inovio is able to move forward with a late-stage study of INO-4800 and has positive results from that study to know which one is right and which is wrong.

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