Those in the medical field can safely explain to the rest of us that “medicine,” while imprinting on our imaginations the sight of someone popping a pill under their tongue to swallow with a glass of water, is often a much more involved process that can sometimes include technology. That is the case with Inovio Pharmaceuticals.

At Emergent, we believe in both macro (“big picture”) and micro (“zoomed-in”) elements of research, so while we often discuss major economic implications on large asset classes like stocks or bonds, we believe it also pays to examine companies in depth, especially when they are pursuing interesting and helpful technologies that have the capability to impact not just the company involved but entire sectors as well. Inovio Pharmaceuticals is no exception. In the news recently because of their “forerunning” the fight against COVID-19 with their technology, Inovio is no stranger to innovation.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals focuses on battling cancer and diseases using DNA technology. The general concept is to use a combination of medicine and technology to bolster immune and antibody responses against targeted pathogens and cancers. They design DNA plasmids that they deliver to the patient directly via the body’s cells. The technology aspect of this treatment comes from their proprietary smart device, Cellectra. Before we talk about Cellectra, it’s important to discuss the two medicines that have brought investors’ eyes to Inovio.

Inovio’s lead product candidate, VGX-3100, is in Phase 3 testing, typically the final phase of FDA testing that leads to manufacturing and commercializing the sale of the drug. VGX-3100 treats HPV, or human papillomavirus, which afflicts nearly 80 million Americans per year, and can lead to other types of cancer such as anal and neck cancers. They also have a variety of other internally and externally funded products in their pipeline that combat a number of diseases such as cervical, anal, penile, and vulvar cancers; glioblastoma multiforme and prostate cancer in their immune-oncology section; and HIV, Ebola, MERS, Zika, Lassa Fever, and COVID-19 in their infectious diseases section. All of their infectious disease pipeline medicines are funded externally by well-known groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CIPA, and Darma, amongst others.

As for the COVID-19 product, INO-4800, Inovio is running a phase 1 trial including 40 adult participants, receiving two doses of vaccine two weeks apart, using healthy participants in order to determine the safety of the vaccine, as well as hoping to observe a triggered immune response. If Inovio has positive results in the latter end of June, the company will move to Phase 2/3 (a combination of Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials) clinical trial sometime during the summer, if the regulators approve.

Overall, it is interesting to examine Inovio in light of not just the COVID-19 pandemic that has been the rage in the news, but also for its technology and other medicines, backed by large organizations, and all coming through in Phase 2 testing.

While COVID-19, as a result of being the cause of the most recent shutdowns, is what most of the media surrounding Inovio is honed in on, Cellectra, their proprietary smart device, seems to be the means by which all of Inovio’s medicines would be administered and is already currently used in Phase 3 trials. Cellectra is the one of the reasons why being an investor can be so much fun. It’s the overlooked aspect of Inovio’s medicinal ventures that makes them not only viable, but potentially enhances their life-saving potential. Above all, Cellectra is a technology. Most of us, when thinking about technologies in the health care space, tend to think of MRI or X-ray machines, used to monitor and prevent disease and cancer from setting in, or being able to anticipate it before it hits, but Cellectra is one of those technologies that, quite the opposite, has life-saving potential because of its ability to administer their medicine, designed to trigger immune responses. Summed up, Cellectra functions as a device that uses prefilled disposable cartridges to inject the required medicine, with a touch screen interface, automated sensors, and a trigger start. According to some trials, this device has led to better targeted results using the same medicine in some patients. Cellectra has already been tested on over 2,000 human subjects in about 6,000 doses. The important, and interesting, aspect of Inovio is that their medicine, exciting as it is of its own accord, is all the more so possible and potent as a result of Cellectra, a smart device.

Nickolas Urpi

 Disclosure: Partners at Emergent own positions in Inovio. However, this article expresses the opinion of the writers alone and they are not receiving compensation for writing this blog piece. Emergent has no business relationship with any company mentioned.