Inovio-led team picks up $24M from DARPA to develop Ebola vaccine, treatments

Just 5 months after it scored $21 million of a potential $45 million grant for the development of Ebola treatments, Inovio Pharmaceuticals ($INO) picked up the remaining $24 million from DARPA, the company announced on Monday. The DOD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency chose Inovio to lead the development of Ebola treatments and preventive measures, including a DNA-based vaccine against the disease.

Inovio has a long list of collaborators on the project. They include AstraZeneca's ($AZN) research unit MedImmune, South Korea's GeneOne Life Sciences and its U.S.-based manufacturing arm, VGXI, and the University of Pennsylvania, Emory University and Vanderbilt University. The funding also covers the development of a therapeutic DNA-based monoclonal antibody product to treat Ebola infection and a conventional monoclonal antibody.

"Inovio is executing all aspects of the Ebola program as planned," said Inovio CEO Dr. J. Joseph Kim. "The DARPA program is funding an accelerated R&D program that is simultaneously working on three different counter-measures. Access to the full DARPA funding based on the accomplishment of certain program milestones allows Inovio and its collaborators to carry out all the elements of the proposal as rapidly as possible."

Since receiving the initial $21 million, Inovio and its collaborators have enrolled 75 volunteers in a Phase I trial for Inovio's candidate, INO-4212. The collaborators have also achieved complete protection of vaccinated monkeys in a lethal challenge.

The Phase I trial will take place at centers in Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Data is expected in the fourth quarter of this year.

At the height of the outbreak, several companies were racing to bring their candidates to trial, including Merck ($MRK) and NewLink ($NLNK), whose candidate reported 100% efficacy in a Phase III ring trial in Guinea this July. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), which scored $28.5 million from BARDA last week for its Ebola vaccine, is collaborating with Bavarian Nordic on a prime-boost jab, with the former's candidate serving as the prime dose and the latter's serving as the booster shot. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has brought a candidate to trials as a standalone as well as in a prime-boost combo with Emergent BioSolutions' ($EBS) candidate.

- here's the release