Viruses such as influenza and HIV mutate quickly, making it difficult to develop a preventive vaccine. Inovio Biomedical of San Diego seeks to overcome this challenge with its pipeline of new-generation DNA vaccines. Inovio’s system combines its SynCon DNA vaccine platform and its electroporation-based drug delivery technology to develop “universal vaccines” for a host of medical conditions. The company’s pipeline includes DNA-based vaccines for cervical cancer, influenza, HIV and the hepatitis C virus. Among other products, Inovio is developing a universal flu vaccine engineered to prevent several strains of influenza at once.
In contrast to conventional vaccines, which use a live or dead version of the virus, DNA vaccines identify the genetic blueprint for the virus and deliver it into the cells. The injected DNA sequence triggers the production of a protein associated with the disease. If enough of the protein is produced, the immune system takes notice and mounts an attack on the disease. DNA vaccines have demonstrated both preventive and therapeutic properties in clinical studies.
Inovio’s electroporation-based delivery system uses an electrical field to open up the cell membrane so a DNA vaccine can be administered. Once the electrical field is turned off, the pores reseal, trapping the injected molecules inside the cell. Electroporation has been shown to greatly increase the uptake of biological agents into cells. In preclinical animal studies, Inovio’s electroporation technology increased immune response and T-cell production.
Inovio is currently collaborating with Merck, the University of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Army, among others. In this video from the 2010 OneMedForum, Inovio President and CEO Dr. Joseph Kim discusses the company’s technology, its applications in the multibillion-dollar vaccine market, and the company’s agenda for the year ahead.