"This is a tremendous milestone for Inovio in that it is our largest deal with one of the preeminent pharma companies," said Inovio chief executive officer J. Joseph Kim, who suggested Inovio might double its workforce in the next year to continue development of its products.
Inovio has 60 full-time employees, with about half in Blue Bell and half at a research and manufacturing facility in San Diego that it acquired in 2009.
Kim founded the company in 2000, licensing patented technology developed by University of Pennsylvania researcher David Weiner. Weiner and Inovio's efforts are aimed at using DNA to create synthetic vaccines.
For decades, traditional vaccines have been made by taking a virus or bacterium, killing or weakening it, and then injecting it back into the body, hoping the body's natural immune system would overcome it. In theory, DNA-based synthetic vaccines increase the positive effects and decrease the chances of a negative effect.
The compounds licensed to Roche use this technology but are in the earlier stages. All fledgling companies have to search for funding. This deal gives Inovio more breathing space to work on the compounds in the Roche partnership, but also other compounds in its own pipeline.
Inovio's compound closest to being ready for review by the Food and Drug Administration is called VGX-3100, which is intended to prevent and treat human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says there are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas, mouth, and throat of males and females.
Kim said Inovio hopes to get the data from the second of three phases of human clinical trials in mid-2014. Assuming success in Phase 3 trials and FDA approval, it would likely be 2018 before such a product makes it to market.
Knowing Philadelphia's sports landscape as well as the drug business, Kim said: "We keep our lead candidate. It's like keeping Chase Utley and trading first-round picks to fund the business."
Contact David Sell at 215-854-4506, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @phillypharma. Read his blog at www.inquirer.com/ phillypharma.