Inovio makes steps toward a universal flu vax

In flu research, the universal flu shot is the holy grail--something that will swat swine flu, slay seasonal flu, and bludgeon bird flu. Inovio Pharmaceuticals ($INO) thinks it is a step closer to the prize with a universal avian flu vax. The shot has triggered protective responses against 6 strains of the H5N1 virus in one go in a Phase I clinical trial.

The vaccine, based on Inovio's SynCon DNA vaccine platform, is not matched to a single virus but uses a DNA sequence for a number of antigens from a number of virus strains. In the Phase I study, patients got the SynCon DNA-based flu shot into the muscle and under the skin. This was delivered using Inovio's skin electroporation device, which gets the DNA into the cells using a small electrical pulse.

The 17 people getting the shots showed immune responses against different strains of the H5N1 bird flu virus, and two patients had a positive response to all 6 strains tested. The next step is a Phase I trial of Inovio's INO-3510 multi-subtype SynCon vaccine against H5N1 (bird flu) and and H1N1 (swine flu) subtypes. This will be given under the skin using the company's electroporation device. The eventual plan is to combine this with the company's H3N2 and Type B SynCon seasonal flu vaccines to create a single universal flu vaccine against a range of seasonal and pandemic flu viruses.

Flu viruses mutate quickly, and a vaccine that could protect year after year and against different subtypes would be a huge breakthrough. The benefits could range from saving lost work days to saving lives. Dr. J. Joseph Kim, Inovio's president and CEO, said: "Our goal has been to develop a truly universal influenza vaccine capable of providing years of protection across subtypes and strains. We are planning further development initiatives for this program and look forward to forthcoming data from INO-3510, our universal vaccine for the influenza H5N1 and H1N1."

- read the press release