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What Are the Prospects for Inovio's COVID Vaccine?

By Keith Speights and Brian Orelli, PhD - Mar 14, 2021 at 2:31PM

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The biotech could be a winner over the long run but faces some significant challenges.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO -7.81%) is one of several companies that lag behind the leaders in the COVID-19 vaccine race. The biotech is currently evaluating its COVID-19 vaccine candidate INO-4800 in a phase 2 study. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on March 3, 2021, Fool.com contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss what the prospects for Inovio's COVID vaccine might be.

Keith Speights: Of course, Inovio also has a COVID-19 vaccine that they are developing. The story right now is that they're testing it in Phase II. I think they're expecting to wrap up that testing early in the second quarter.

They can't advance to Phase III testing until they answer some FDA questions about their device they used to administer the vaccine. It's a device called CELLECTRA. Inovio is saying that they expect to address all those questions by the time they wrap up the Phase II tests.

One of our viewers, Laura, has a question. I'm going to have part of her question anyway. She says, "Do you think that Inovio still has some chance in the vaccine market?"

Brian Orelli: Yeah. I think I caught you that they're finishing up the Phase II clinical trial and there are some issues with the machine. This is a DNA-based vaccine and the way they get their DNA into the cells is they fire it in with this machine. The machine is another component that it's a risk to investors because they have to get both the machine to work properly and then be able to manufacture it, as well as have the actual vaccine work. I think that's the biggest issue with Inovio.

They are working on a pan-coronavirus vaccine. They are looking at different areas of the coronaviruses that are conserved over a whole bunch of coronaviruses, and then trying to develop a vaccine based on the areas that are conserved. Therefore, if they're conserved, that means they are less likely to get mutations because they probably would have gotten those mutations already. Therefore, they're probably important parts of the coronavirus that can't be mutated. Or if they get mutated, then it makes the coronavirus no longer viable. That's where they're trying to go for.

I think they're pretty late in the game. So whether they're going to have to run a Phase III clinical trial. We've talked about this before, but I think Phase III clinical trials that are going to get harder and harder to run just because the number of patients that are going to be interested in enrolling the Phase III clinical trials is going to go down and the transmission rate is going to go down. The clinical trials are based on the number of people who get COVID-19. So it's going to take longer and longer to run the clinical.

Well, once you get it completely enrolled, then it's going to take longer and longer to run their clinical trial because you have to get a certain number of people with COVID-19. As the transmission rate goes down, it's going to become harder and harder. They may have to maybe skip the US altogether possibly and try to go someplace where the vaccines haven't started rolling out, and so therefore, the transition rate is much higher.

Speights: Yeah. The other issue, I guess in the US particularly by the time Inovio even gets to Phase III testing, assuming everything goes well, they answer the FDA's questions satisfactorily, we'll have enough vaccines to give to every American. There won't be a market for 2021 for sure, even if everything went just amazingly well. You're probably right. Maybe going to other countries might be Inovio's best bet for success going forward.

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