On June 23, 2020, INOVIO Pharmaceuticals announced it has received $71 million in funding from the U.S Department of Defense (DOD). Unlike other Department of Defense initiatives, which most Americans assume relate to weapons and military efforts, this DOD contract seeks to protect citizens in a different way: through the easy delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine.
What Is the CELLECTRA® 3PSP Smart Device?
The CELLECTRA® 3PSP has been in development since 2019. Prior to Inovio’s DOD contract, the pharmaceutical giant received $5 million grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to accelerate the development and testing of the CELLECTRA® 3PSP.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the CELLECTRA® generated excitement as a major medical breakthrough. The CELLECTRA® device uses a brief electrical pulse to reversibly open small pores in the cell to allow plasmids to enter. This method of delivery overcomes a key limitation of other DNA approaches, thus making it possible for DNA plasmids to enable the cell to produce a specific antigen.
According to INOVIO, “The antigen is processed naturally in the cell and triggers the desired T cell and antibody-mediated immune responses.” The pharmaceutical company has 15 DNA medicine clinical programs currently in development to treat chronic health problems including cancer, HPV-associated diseases, and infectious diseases.
How Can the CELLECTRA® 3PSP Help Fight COVID-19?
As soon as the coronavirus pandemic began, INOVIO devoted its resources to the development of a DNA vaccine candidate known as INO-4800. It was designed using INOVIO’s proprietary DNA medicine platform.
According to INOVIO, INO-4800 is currently the only nucleic-acid based vaccine that is stable at room temperature for more than a year and does not require freezing during transport or storage. Early reports of INOVIO’s Phase 1 clinical trial of INO-4800 indicate positive results with 94% of all participants demonstrating overall immune responses without any serious adverse events.
Now INOVIO’s $71 million in funding will be used to support the large-scale manufacturing of the CELLECTRA® 3PSP smart device to deliver INO-4800 directly into the skin. Thanks to the CELLECTRA® 3PSP’s proven efficiency, INOVIO scientists believe this delivery method will prompt the body’s immune system to “drive a robust immune response” against COVID-19.
The CELLECTRA® 3PSP is small, portable, hand-held, and runs simply with AA batteries. This makes the device easy to stockpile in large quantities and use even in challenging environments without maintenance, characteristics that are essential in pandemic situations.
As explained by Dr. J Joseph Kim, INOVIO’s President and CEO, “This next generation smart device leverages the efficacy delivery and safety track record of an earlier version that has received CE mark certification and has been used in clinical trials to safely dose more than 2,000 patients in over 7,000 administrations of INOVIO’s DNA medicines. The current DoD contract further supports INOVIO’s large-scale production of devices and arrays to deliver potentially hundreds of millions of doses of INO-4800 next year to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic.”