Walter Reed kicks off PhI trial of Inovio's MERS vaccine

The Daniel K. Inouye building at the Walter Reed campus--Courtesy of Walter Reed

Three months after teaming up with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Inovio ($INO) and GeneOne are kicking off a Phase I trial of their MERS vaccine. The biotechs joined forces with Walter Reed in November to conduct Phase I trials, citing the disease as an "emergent global health concern." MERS has killed nearly 600 and infected 1,650 people since it emerged in 2012.

The trial is taking place at Walter Reed's clinical trial center in Silver Spring, MD, and involves 75 participants.

"Recent events have taught the global community that promising candidate countermeasures for emerging infectious diseases, like MERS, need to be advanced early in order to prevent or respond to the potential of a growing epidemic," Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, a clinical researcher with the U.S. Military HIV Research Program at Walter Reed and principal investigator of the trial, said in a statement.

While the virus emerged in Saudi Arabia and has been circulating there primarily, the World Health Organization has now confirmed cases in 26 countries. The largest outbreak outside of the Middle East killed 36 and infected 200 in South Korea.

The "Recent events" referred to by Modjarrad include the latest Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which spurred a flurry of R&D. However, the epidemic abated while several companies were still seeking participants for late-stage trials. The frontrunner, Merck ($MRK), whose candidate achieved 100% efficacy in interim Phase III data, does not expect to file for regulatory approval until 2017. And now, the fast-growing Zika outbreak has many a biotech--Inovio included--scrambling to develop a vaccine, but the WHO warned not to expect a candidate to reach large-scale human trials for another 18 months.

- here's the release