Investigation opened over biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine claim
Ahead of BIO International Convention, now taking place as a digital event, the organization is running a series called ‘Biotechnology: Beyond Imagination’ that highlights companies’ work before the event.
The focus of one is Inovio Pharmaceuticals and its work to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
Within the piece, a reference is made to a statement by the biotech’s SVP of R&D, Kate Broderick, that it was able to use the genetic sequencing of the virus on January 10 to produce a vaccine ‘three hours later’, as she originally told NBC San Diego.
This claim is now at the center of a pending class action lawsuit filed against Inovio by Robbins LLP. The law firm announced last week that it would be investigating the officers and directors of Inovio “for breaches of fiduciary duties and violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.”
In particular, Robbins stated that due to the claim of a vaccine being developed in three hours, the share price of the biotech had quadrupled.
However, a later report by Citron Research, that called into question this claim, saw the company retract that a vaccine had been developed in this period, clarifying that instead a ‘vaccine construct’ had been developed. As a result of this, Inovio’s stock price fell.
Inovio's response to the claims were shared via Twitter:
#INOVIO#INO$INO#COVID19#DNA#DNAmedicinepic.twitter.com/m0ueIKb24w— INOVIO Pharmaceuticals (@InovioPharma) March 9, 2020
The report by Citron Research compared Inovio’ claims to those made by Theranos, the infamous blood testing company that proved to be a stock market darling until the technology at its heart was not able to match the claims made about its capabilities.
Citron Research based this suggestion on the biotech’s ability to develop a vaccine in three hours using a computer algorithm.
In its report, the organization suggested, “So Inovio has a ‘computer algorithm’ that no else in the world has and is arguably one of the greatest breakthroughs in vaccine discovery in the past 100 years, and yet this ‘computer algorithm’ is not mentioned once in any of its 10-K’s or 10-Qs? Sounds like Theranos to us.”
The vaccine in question
Despite questions being raised about the vaccine, Inovio has continued to post updates on the candidate’s progress.
On May 20, the biotech announced that preclinical studies for INO-4800 had produced neutralizing antibodies and T cell immune responses against the novel coronavirus in mice and guinea pigs.
As a result, Inovio stated that it would await Phase I results this month before moving ahead with a Phase II/III trial in either July or August.
In addition, Inovio announced at the end of April that it had signed a deal with Richter-Helm BioLogics to expand manufacturing to support the large-scale manufacture of the vaccine candidate.
The partnership was partly funded by a grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which has supported INO-4800’s development with $17.2m (€15.5m).
Inovio did not respond to a request for comment on Robbins LLP’s pending class action lawsuit.