Inovio's MERS vaccine could hit PhI before year's end

In the three years since Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was discovered in Saudi Arabia, more than 1,500 cases of the disease have been reported and at least 571 people have died from MERS. This year's outbreak in South Korea infected 186 and killed 36. There is no vaccine for MERS, but candidate from Inovio could enter Phase I in the next couple of months.

GeneOne, which partnered with Inovio ($INO) to develop the latter's MERS vaccine, announced Monday the filing of an Investigational New Drug Application for the candidate. The companies plan to bring the jab into Phase I trials by the end of the year.

The vaccine showed 100% protection from a live virus challenge in mice, camels and monkeys, Inovio reported in August.

According to a statement, the jab provoked immune responses that could prevent the virus from infecting cells in all three species. And in monkeys, all vaccinated animals were protected from MERS symptoms when challenged with a live virus.

Inovio CEO J. Joseph Kim

"We are moving rapidly from achieving complete protection from MERS in monkey studies to our goals of obtaining safety data from a Phase I trial and regulatory approval," Inovio CEO J. Joseph Kim said in the statement.

These developments come at a time when Saudi and U.S. health officials are discussing the preparation of vaccines in advance of another MERS outbreak. And Princeton, NJ-based Brighton Biotech announced Tuesday that it had acquired the exclusive global license to develop and commercialize MERS and SARS vaccines from a consortium including the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

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