Government contracts can be the lifeblood for many biotech companies, and when they score a win, the payoff is huge. Inovio Pharmaceuticals can attest to that. Today it won a $45 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to lead a collaborative team to develop products and a DNA-based vaccine against Ebola.
Inovio is the prime contractor on the DARPA program. Other collaborators are MedImmune, the global biologics R&D arm of AstraZeneca; GeneOne Life Sciences and its manufacturing subsidiary, VGLI; and Professor David B. Weiner, Ph.D., professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at UPenn, Emory and Vanderbilt.
Plans are to dose the first patient with Inovio's vaccine during the second quarter of this year. In preclinical testing the vaccine protected 100 percent of vaccinated animals from death and sickness after being exposed to a lethal dose of the Ebola virus.
"We are advancing against this virus on all fronts," said Joseph Kim, president and CEO of Inovio, in a statement thanking DARPA. The contract represents the largest single grant ever awarded to Inovio, which has previously won two grants totaling $28 million from the National Institutes of Health in 2015.
Fourteen years ago, Dr. Kim left a job developing vaccines for Merck to launch a new company with his former PhD. advisor. Today, Inovio is considered leaderin the vaccine market for its drive to produce DNA vaccines: synthetic, gene-based medicines that train the body's immune system to attack cancers,influenza, Ebola, even HIV/AIDS.