+Timos Papagatsias

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Inovio Pharmaceuticals

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Inovio Pharmaceuticals specializes in creating vaccines with superior characteristics in terms of immunogenicity and T cell responses.

At the heart of the company's development pipeline lies its proprietary 
SynCon™ DNA Vaccine Platform technology which is described on the company's website as: 
"More technically speaking, SynCon™ DNA vaccine antigens are designed by aligning numerous primary sequences and choosing DNA-based triplets for the most common amino acid at each site. These antigens are further optimized for codon usage, improved mRNA stability, and enhanced leader sequences for ribosome loading. The DNA inserts are therefore optimized at the genetic level to give them high expression capability in human cells."

I am not so sure how much this differs from other codon-optimization approaches (see Geneart for example) but, coupled with Inovio's electroporation technology, makes the company a strong competitor in the field of genetic vaccines.

Inovio's list of Partners includes Merck and Co., the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases amongst others (see here for more information).

The company has recently announced a $24.3 million registered offering, with the proceeds going towards further development of its DNA vaccine candidate against cervical dysplasias and cancers, as well as towards funding of other preclinical and clinical studies (the full announcement from the company can be found here).

We believe that DNA vaccines constitute one of the most important developments in the last 10 or so years, in the vaccine field. Technically speaking, a DNA vaccine consists of a DNA sequence coding for the desired immunogen, combined with an appropriate delivery method (most commonly used nowadays an intramuscular injection or a transdermal delivery approach) and preferably complemented with an immunomodulating adjuvant agent. Inovio Pharmaceuticals seems to be ticking all the boxes, or at least has made good progress towards developing truly novel DNA vaccines, with a gene optimization algorithm that allows for ehanced transcription/translation of its products and with an efficient delivery method in the form of electroporation. 

It is quite interesting to see vaccine companies such as Inovio Pharmaceuticals, making use of electroporation for the delivery of their vaccines; DNA vaccines, especially the very first ones that were based on early generation plasmid backbones, are inherently difficult to deliver to the target site and achieve long-lasting expression or even a strong immune response to begin with. Electroporation seems to solve the delivery problem and in certain cases can also have an adjuvant effect through associated cell death and local site inflammation following vaccine delivery. Of course the debate over usefulness and the best delivery method between viral vectors and approaches such as electroporation still holds on, but for the time being, and until we start seeing these approaches reaching late stage clinical trials and the market, one should choose the most appropriate method depending on their needs. 

In the meantime, Inovio Pharmaceuticals looks to be well positioned for a strong "push" forward. The company is currently running clinical trials in the cancer (cervical, breast, lung and others) and infectious diseases (HIV and influenza) fields. More information on positive results from its Phase I HIV vaccine trial can be found here.


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