Inovio (INO) is a micro-cap biotechnology company that is developing innovative vaccines and delivery systems. It has a market capitalization, today, of $71 million and the stock price closed at $0.51. (versus 52wk High/Low $0.90/$0.37; volatility is high)
Inovio's vaccines are aimed at difficult to treat viruses that typically exist in multiple strains. This means a specific traditional vaccine has to be developed to protect people from each strain. That takes times, and a new strain can emerge and infect a global population faster than a traditional vaccine can be developed. Inovio's SynCon vaccines are believed to provide cross-protection against multiple strains.
Results have been coming in on a regular basis from trials. In September Inovio announced an open-label Phase I study of its universal H1N1 influenza vaccine provoked immune responses "against some of the most prevalent strains of H1N! influenza from the past 100 years."
One veterinary subsidiary of Inovio reported its improved LifeTide DNA plasmid therapy for pigs to produces more piglets per litter, with higher birth weights, and at a lower dosage than the original version. A separate subsidiary in New Zealand received regulatory permission to market the therapy in October.
Also in October results from a VGX-3100 vaccine trial for HPV (human papillomavirus) showed 100% of 18 patients in the trial showed antigen-specific antibody response, while 78% showed T-cell responses. A phase II trial now underway will determine if the immune responses are able to reverse disease progression to cervical cancer.
In pre-clinical trials Inovio demonstrated that its electroporation technique for introducing its vaccines to skin using minimal invasion "induces robust cellular and humoral immune responses."
November was a busy month. First Inovio Hepatitis B (HPV) vaccine demonstrated the potential to clear HBV from the liver in mice in a pre-clinical trial. Another preclinical study showed T-cell immune response in Cytomegalovirus (CMV).
On December 6th positive Phase II interim results were reported in the leukemia trial. This could lead to treating CML (chronic myelogenous leukemia) with a vaccine. The results are from just 8 patients, with 14 patients currently enrolled and a total of 31 to be studied in the full trial. In addition to showing the vaccine to be safe. Patients received six does of two DNA vaccines at four week intervals. Tests showed T cells and leukemia antibodies were generated. Note, however, no data was released as to whether the patients responded to the therapy by delays in progression or the other usual indicators. In addition to CML, some of the patients to be enrolled will be suffering from AML (acute myeloid leukemia, a more common variety than CML).
Most recently, on December 10th interim Phase I results for H1N1 flu vaccine given to elderly patients were announced. 50 patients were in the trial, with two sets of 20 receiving the vaccine on differing schedules and 10 control subjects who received the traditional seasonal flu vaccine. Immune responses registered at 40% for the Inovio vaccine, double the rate of 20% responding to the traditional vaccine. It was previously known that elderly patients tend to not gain immunity from standard flu vaccines.
What is innovative about Inovio vaccines? They are DNA vaccines. Traditional vaccines consist of weakened or dead viruses or their protein coatings. DNA vaccines need to be inserted into cells (instead of into the bloodstream), but once there can trigger both antibody and T-cell immune responses. To insert the vaccines into cells Inovio uses an electroporation device it developed and has successfully tested. Inovio, in fact, resulted from the merger of a vaccine company and an electroporation developer.
It is important to note that all of the new data is from early-stage trials. To receive FDA approval for commercial sales of a therapy typically two successful Phase III trials are required. Inovio Pharmaceuticals is a developmental stage company with all the risks and uncertainties inherent in that status.
In addition to the recent news, Inovio has a Hepatitis C vaccine in a Phase II trial, and an HIV vaccine in Phase I. It has more cancer vaccine candidates: prostate in preclinical, and a breast/lung/prostate cancer trial in Phase I.
Despite the risk of failure common to all new biotechnology, I believe Inovio is more likely than not to be worth far more in a few years than it is now. Inovio has many shots on goal. Only one vaccine would need to be approved by the FDA to make Inovio a highly-valuable company.
Another risk for investors is that Inovio is likely to need to raise cash to complete its program of demonstrating the effectiveness of its vaccines, and to commercialize them. However, as of the end of Q3, Inovio had $15 million in cash, and some of the trials are being conducted, or paid for, by partners.
Disclaimer: I am long INO. I will not trade INO for 7 days following the publication of this article.
Keep diversified! You should also take a good close look at inovio.com and SEC documents before risking your capital.