First clinical MERS vaccine by Inovio and GeneOne shows promise

MERS is associated with an overall 36% fatality rate, but no vaccine is available yet. (NIAID)

Inovio and GeneOne Life Science’s MERS vaccine, which is receiving financial support from the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), elicited high levels of antibodies and T-cell responses in a phase 1 study.

Overall, 94% of subjects injected with the MERS vaccine candidate, dubbed INO-4700 or GLS-5300, showed antibody responses two weeks after their third dose, according to the partners. Investigators observed broad-based T-cell responses in nearly 90% of participants.

In the phase 1 trial, conducted by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research at its Maryland site, scientists divided healthy adults into three groups to receive different doses of the vaccine. From the lowest 0.67-mg dose to the highest 6 mg, antibody response rates were similar across the groups; those responses were maintained through 60 weeks.

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The team designed their shot with Inovio’s proprietary DNA-based platform called ASPIRE to activate high levels of immune responses. It combines an optimized DNA sequence design process and a novel delivery technique that uses small electrical pulses to increase DNA immunotherapy uptake. Pennsylvania-based Inovio's HPV-related cervical precancer therapeutic vaccine VGX-3100, using the same platform, has already entered phase 3 trials.

Inovio’s South Korean partner GeneOne plans to conduct a phase 1/2 study on the MERS vaccine in Korea in the third quarter of this year. It will be funded by a $34 million grant from the Samsung Foundation through IVI. Meanwhile, Invoio recently secured a $56 million grant from CEPI to develop vaccines against MERS and Lassa fever through phase 2. If mid-stage data turn out positive, the international vaccine initiative could commit additional funding into the program for emergency stockpile.

RELATED: On the heels of Themis deal, CEPI hands Inovio $56M for Lassa fever and MERS vaccines

Scientists first identified MERS, a coronavirus, in Saudi Arabia in 2012. A 2015 outbreak in South Korea resulted in 186 cases and 36 deaths.

The Inovio shot is currently the most advanced preventative anti-MERS vaccine. Austrian biotech Themis Bioscience is developing another under a $37.5 million CEPI grant.

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