Inovio Pharmaceuticals won a $3.5 million grant from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to advance development of a next-generation DNA vaccine delivery device capable of simultaneously administering multiple synthetic vaccines via skin surface electroporation.

Inovio is developing the device with Connie W. Schmaljohn, Ph.D., chief scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), whose mission is to protect service members from biological threats and investigate disease outbreaks or threats to public health. The partnership aims to develop a device that can facilitate rapid vaccination of U.S. troops stationed worldwide against multiple infectious diseases, as well as protect civilian populations from pandemic threats.

“This new device would provide a means to rapidly and painlessly deliver multiple vaccines simultaneously to large groups of people,” J. Joseph Kim, Ph.D., Inovio’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “The advancements from this project will enable rapid and efficient delivery of Inovio’s SynCon® vaccines for universal flu, HIV, and other infectious diseases on a mass scale.”

Inovio researchers have collaborated with USAMRIID scientists to advance a DNA vaccine for the Lassa virus, designated as a “Category A” pathogen by the U.S. Department of Defense. In earlier testing, an optimized DNA vaccine for the Lassa virus delivered by surface electroporation demonstrated complete protection against a virus challenge in both guinea pig and nonhuman primate disease models.

“Although prior results are highly encouraging and electroporation delivery is very tolerable from a patient perspective, improvements are still needed to make the technology more suitable for multiple vaccine administrations and mass vaccinations,” Inovio said in the statement.

The research effort will investigate simultaneous delivery of multiple DNA vaccines—final testing will use the Lassa virus and other arenaviruses—at distinct spatial sites, while avoiding immune interference between vaccines.

According to Inovio, the new device platform could significantly increase the dose of vaccine delivered at one time—a current limitation in vaccine delivery to the skin. The new device is intended to leverage Inovio’s latest surface DNA vaccine delivery technology, which is based on the company’s electroporation delivery platform that uses millisecond electrical pulses to dramatically improve cellular uptake of the vaccine and resulting immune responses.

In earlier clinical studies, Inovio vaccines delivered with electroporation devices to fight cancer and infectious diseases previously demonstrated best-in-class T-cell and antibody responses.

The NIAID grant follows a 2011 Small Business Innovation Research grant, for which Inovio demonstrated a delivery device that was designed to deliver two separate DNA vaccines simultaneously. In this new program, Inovio will develop the multivaccine electroporation delivery device to address biodefense vaccine targets—notably to advance the Lassa virus vaccine through to clinical studies. 

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