Drug Research
Drug Discovery & Development

Inovio secures $56m from CEPI to advance DNA vaccines against Lassa fever and MERS

Published 13 April 2018

Inovio Pharmaceuticals has secured funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop vaccine candidates against Lassa fever and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

CEPI will fund up to $56m to support Inovio’s pre-clinical and clinical advancement through Phase 2 of INO-4500, its Lassa fever vaccine, and INO-4700, its MERS vaccine. 

The shared goal of Inovio and CEPI is for the Lassa and MERS vaccines to be available as soon as possible for emergency use.

This is the second company agreement CEPI has signed since its launch in 2017. These partnerships represent an innovative approach to funding vaccine development, unlocking research and development potential so that vaccines are ready for efficacy studies during an outbreak.

The agreement will enable funding for Inovio’s development efforts over a five-year period. The partnership agreement also includes options, not counted in the total above, to establish investigational stockpiles of both vaccines.

Lassa fever is a disease endemic to West Africa associated with annual outbreaks. An ongoing outbreak in Nigeria has, according to figures from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, resulted in over 400 confirmed cases and over 100 deaths from January 1, 2018 through April 8, 2018 1.

MERS, first identified in 2012, causes a severe respiratory illness and has been associated with a number of outbreaks in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries.

Individuals acquiring these diseases in the regions of origin occasionally travel to other locations, becoming ill in areas outside the endemic regions. In 2015 an individual with MERS returned to South Korea from the Middle East. This resulted in an outbreak that resulted in 186 confirmed cases and 38 deaths. The outbreak affected 24 hospitals, led to the temporary closure of more than 2,000 schools, and had a significant impact on the South Korean economy.

CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett said, “Epidemics don’t respect borders; they destroy lives and devastate economies and we need to move swiftly to prepare for them. Partnering with Inovio is a considerable move forward for CEPI’s vaccine portfolio and developing a global insurance policy against these diseases.”

CEPI’s funding will support development up to the end of Phase 2, providing clinical safety and immunological data, and the establishment of investigational stockpiles that will be ready for clinical efficacy trial testing during outbreaks.

CEPI’s portfolio of investments will provide additional benefits to the wider vaccine community through the development of assays, reference standards and associated knowledge that may accelerate the development of other vaccines and medical counter measures against Lassa fever and MERS.

Inovio’s president and CEO Dr. J. Joseph said, “The Inovio/CEPI partnership demonstrates the confidence of both organizations in Inovio’s DNA vaccine platform to rapidly produce countermeasures against emerging viral threats potentially protecting large populations from a pandemic.”

Inovio will develop these DNA vaccines employing its ASPIRE™ (Antigen SPecific Immune REsponses) platform. This platform delivers optimized synthetic antigenic genes into cells, where they are translated into protein antigens that activate an individual's immune system to generate robust targeted T cell and antibody responses.

Inovio’s immunotherapies function exclusively in vivo, and have generated an antigen-specific immune response against targeted diseases in all clinical trials to date.

The CEPI partnership builds upon Inovio’s clinical and preclinical advancements for MERS and Lassa fever vaccines. Results from a first-in-human Phase 1 study for its MERS vaccine found high levels of binding antibodies in 92% (57 of 62) of evaluated subjects.

Significant antigen-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses were also observed. Importantly, all but one evaluated vaccinated subject or 98% (61 of 62) generated an antibody and/or T cell response against the MERS vaccine. Inovio’s Lassa vaccine data also holds much promise 2.

 In a study funded by a $3.5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Inovio previously published that its DNA vaccine against Lassa fever provided 100% protection for non-human primates challenged with a lethal dose of the virus 3.

Inovio is advancing MERS and Lassa vaccines with the support of its collaborators: The Wistar Institute, Laval University, the NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), VGXI/GeneOne Life Science and the International Vaccine Institute.

Source: Company Press Release