Inovio Pharmaceuticals is a biotechnology company developing and commercializing DNA immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases. The company is headquartered in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania and was founded by Joseph Kim in 1983.
Inovio’s vaccines introduce DNA sequences from the virus to provide an immune system target for specific parts of the pathogen that are predicted to elicit the strongest response by the immune system. Their platform delivers DNA into cells within the patient, where it is translated into proteins that activate their immune response.
VGX-3100 entered Phase 3 trials as an immunotherapy for HPV-related cervical precancer. VGX-3100 is comprised of two synthetic DNA plasmids that encode and express antigen targets for anti-HPV. The VGX-3100 DNA is not designed to integrate into the host genome. VGX-3100 was made using DNA SynCon technology and contains non-oncogenic HPV genes E6 and E7 from HPV16 and HPV18 viral strains. VGX-3100 is delivered into muscle using a CELLECTRA 5P Device. The DNA plasmid translocates to the nucleus due to the localized electroporation field generated which makes cell membranes temporarily permeable to the large synthetic DNA molecules. The E6 an E7 HPV antigenic proteins induce a cellular and humoral immune response specific to HPV 16/18 infected cells that are dysplastic or abnormal looking.
COVID-19 vaccine development
Inovio Pharmaceuticals received a $9 million grant from Coalition Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 (previously called 2019-nCoV) coronavirus. The coronavirus strain has more recently been renamed SARS-CoV-2 with the disease called COVID-19 (coronavirus disease). The company’s MERS-CoV vaccine has shown positive clinical outcomes against a different coronavirus. Inovio Pharmaceuticals will work with Twist Bioscience, a company that will provide DNA synthesis.
Inovio is working in collaboration with David Weiner and colleagues at the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia and Keith Chappell at the University of Queensland. Both Weiner and Chappell’s research teams are generating a DNA vaccine based on the virus’s genetic sequence, which is RNA. For the approach by Weiner and colleagues, the DNA fragments of the new coronavirus will be injected into a person’s skin, taken up by skin cells and the DNA read by the skin’s cellular machinery and translated into proteins that the coronavirus would produce. These proteins will be used to elicit an immune response to recognize the virus. The research team needs to determine which DNA sequences that encode viral proteins, would elicit the strongest immune response.
Chappell and colleagues will use an approach called the molecular clamp which improves the immune response of certain viral proteins. The molecular clamp technology allows the expression of viral fusion proteins in their native trimeric ‘pre-fusion’ form. This form is equivalent to the way they are expressed on the virion surface, the principle target for the antibody response.
Safety and immunogenicity of VGX-3100 formulations in a healthy young adult population
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- DNAMolecule that encodes the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and many viruses.
- ImmunotherapyImmunotherapy aims to treat disease through activation or suppression of an immune response. For example activating immunotherapies can target cancer and suppressive immunotherapies can target autoimmunity.