Is Inovio Pharma’s Zika Vaccine the Next Big Thing?

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Shares of Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: INO) saw a handy gain early on Wednesday after the company gave an update on its Zika virus study. Specifically, Inovio said that its DNA-based Zika vaccine (GLS-5700) protected against Zika virus-induced damage to testes and sperm, and prevented persistence of the virus in the reproductive tract of all vaccinated male mice challenged with a high dose of the Zika virus.

The results from the study demonstrated that a single dose of Inovio’s Zika vaccine protected 100% of mice from infection, brain damage and death after exposure to the virus. Vaccinated mice were protected from degeneration in the cerebral cortex and hippocampal areas of the brain while unvaccinated mice showed significant degeneration of the brain after Zika infection. Additionally, a single dose of Inovio’s Zika vaccine also provided 100% protection from the virus in a study of nonhuman primates.

In the first-ever human study of a Zika vaccine, Inovio reported that in its Phase 1 study (ZIKA-001), after a three dose vaccine regimen with GLS-5700 high levels of binding antibodies were measured (ELISA) in 100% of evaluated subjects. Two doses or a single dose of the vaccine generated a robust antibody response in 95% and 40% of evaluated subjects, respectively.

Inovio’s second Phase 1 study of 160 subjects in Puerto Rico (ZIKA-002) will complete enrollment this month. In this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial, 80 subjects received vaccine and 80 subjects received placebo. The study is evaluating the safety, tolerability and immunogenicity of GLS-5700 and assessing differences in Zika infection rates between the arms as an exploratory signal of vaccine efficacy.

Dr. Gary Kobinger, lead author of the study and director of the Centre for Research in Infectious Diseases at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, commented:

Given that we know that Zika virus infection can involve the male reproductive tract and persist in humans for several months after onset of infection, this preclinical data warrants further examination as a potential means to reduce Zika virus infection of the male reproductive tract and the risk of sexual transmission of the virus.

Shares of Inovio closed Tuesday at $7.48, with a consensus analyst price target of $11.80 and a 52-week range of $5.83 to $11.62. The stock was up over 6% at $7.95 in early trading indications Wednesday.