Inovio moves 'aggressively' toward Zika vax PhI after monkey trial

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As the quest for a Zika vaccine unfolds, Inovio Pharma ($INO) continues to lead the pack. The Pennsylvania-based vaccine maker announced on Monday that its candidate showed promise in nonhuman primates.

The company’s synthetic DNA vaccine elicited “robust” antibody and T cell responses in monkeys, Inovio said in a statement. Each animal that received two doses of the vaccine developed antibodies against the mosquito-borne disease. Three months ago, Inovio reported that the candidate performed well in mice.

“With positive large animal results in hand we are moving aggressively to initiate and conduct our first Zika vaccine human trial in 2016,” said Inovio CEO Joseph Kim in the statement. Inovio does not yet market any products, though it has used its SynCon platform to prove immunogenicity in vaccines against dengue and West Nile virus. But experts have warned that despite the current R&D scramble we likely won’t see a Zika vaccine for a few years.

More than a dozen companies are developing a Zika vaccine, including a bevy of smaller biotechs and Big Pharma Sanofi ($SNY), which hopes to translate its success in dengue vaccine development to Zika. The NIH is working on multiple candidates and hopes to enter human trials “early next year,” NIH Director Francis Collins told WMUR. However, Collins continued, “Nobody should imagine that the vaccine solution can happen before about early 2018.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday to advance $1.1 billion in emergency funding to fight Zika. While The New York Times called the move a sign that compromise is still possible in the Senate, the funding falls short of the White House’s requested $1.9 billion. It could face opposition in the House, where Republicans have introduced a plan that would redirect $622 million from other federal health programs toward combating Zika.

- read the Inovio statement
- here's the New York Times story

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