Drug Development

As doubts continue to fester, Inovio gets another shove as Roche exits collaboration

Three years after Roche signed up for a $422 million collaboration pact with Inovio $INO on a pair of its early-stage development programs, the pharma giant is bowing out of the last remaining effort in the partnership. Inovio says that it will take over the Phase I study for the hepatitis B vaccine INO-1800, which is now finally enrolling patients.

Roche took considerably less time on INO-5150, its cancer vaccine. The company bowed out of that program in 2014. At the time, Inovio had said it was starting a Phase I on 5150 in 2015. But according to its pipeline chart, that’s where it still sits today.

Roche had kicked off the preclinical deal with a modest $10 million upfront.


CNBC’s Melissa Lee and Meg Tirrell with Inovio CEO Joseph Kim in June, 2016.

Inovio had pursued a favorite PR ploy on both drugs, spotlighting what it claimed were remarkable animal data that bode well for the human trials to come. But over three years, there’s evidently been little progress as the company continues to ramp up new efforts for vaccines against Ebola, Zika and more.

Inovio CEO Joseph Kim has come under fire for his frequent statements hyping the company’s programs and potential. In a blunt showdown with CNBC a little more than a month ago, two reporters tried to get to the root of the trouble. But as I noted then, the questions may have been tough, but the answers were all soft and fuzzy.

Spread too thin?

Kim: I think our pipeline is very full and very productive.

That yet-to-be-started Phase III pivotal study for cervical dysplasia. The Phase II was wrapped two years ago. Why the delay?

Kim: The FDA meeting was just a couple of months ago, and besides, “it takes a long time to take new, disruptive technologies for these important diseases forward.”

Our CNBC Ebola interview occurred in November, 2014. Do you have the funding and focus necessary to complete the work?

Kim: There are 200 dedicated scientists and vaccine developers.

And lest anyone forget: “The medical product development is a long and arduous road.”

The ever confident Kim had this to say in a statement about 1800:

While we acknowledge Roche’s strategic decision in the area of hepatitis B, we are optimistic that our potent immunotherapy platform will make a difference in this globally important chronic viral infection, similar to what we have demonstrated in HPV-related disease. Inovio was already managing the phase 1 clinical trial so the study will continue on track without disruption.

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