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Inovio's COVID-19 vaccine candidate shows promise in small early-stage trial

By Trisha Roy and Manas Mishra

(Reuters) – An experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc showed promise and was found to be safe in an early-stage human trial, the company said on Tuesday.

The vaccine, one of the 17 being tested in humans and part of the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” program, induced “immune responses” in healthy volunteers, Inovio said.

Immune responses in the study were measured by the vaccine’s ability to generate binding antibodies, or virus-neutralizing antibodies, and T-cell responses – considered the two most important metrics for a successful vaccine.

Based on preliminary data, the drug developer said 34 of the 36 volunteers, all aged between 18 and 50 years, showed overall immunological response rates and most of the 10 patients with side-effects experienced only redness at the site of the shot.

The company said it planned to begin a mid-to-early stage study in summer.

Shares of the company, however, fell 7% to $29.35, as investors were expecting more detailed data from the trial. The stock has gained nearly 900% this year on bets of a successful coronavirus vaccine.

“We believe this preliminary data is likely to raise more questions on the competitive immunogenicity front and limits our ability to get more-constructive on Inovio’s shares based on this limited disclosure alone,” said Stifel analyst Stephen Wiley.

Governments, drugmakers and researchers are working on hundreds of experimental vaccines and drugs to treat COVID-19, which has killed more than 500,000 people worldwide.

The World Health Organization has picked vaccine candidates of Astrazeneca and Moderna Inc as the world’s leading and most advanced ones among more than 200 candidates.

Inovio said in May its experimental vaccine produced protective antibodies and immune system responses in mice and guinea pigs.

Earlier this month, Inovio received grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to scale up production of devices used to administer its experimental vaccine.

(Reporting by Trisha Roy and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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