Drug Development

Ebola! Zika! ATM! Inovio CEO Kim called out for gaming pandemic panic


CNBC’s Melissa Lee and Meg Tirrell with Inovio CEO Joseph Kim.

CNBC’s Melissa Lee and Meg Tirrell with Inovio CEO Joseph Kim.

“You seem to be Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to infectious diseases. Whenever something pops up it seems Inovio comes back into the news” and says its working on a vaccine.

That comment from CNBC’s Melissa Lee set the stage for an unusually blunt interview with Inovio ($INO) CEO Joseph Kim, with her colleague Meg Tirrell jumping in with a series of tough questions.

The two CNBC reporters were all business in the interview, highlighting Inovio’s habit of scrambling onto every pandemic wagon that gets rolling and issuing a string of bullish projections about leading the race for a new vaccine—all while raising more cash from investors.

Now that Zika has come along, spurring scary headlines around the planet, the company has a pipeline with 14 projects, but nothing has been approved in the 37 years since the biotech was founded.

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.

“We have a fabulous tech make this product and advance them.”

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

In the meantime, Inovio continues to match fundraising with its pandemic PR. The biotech ended last week by filing a $50 million ATM. It started this week by announcing that it was ready to roll on a Phase I study for its Zika vaccine, after touting preclinical data.

With Zika spreading fast, Inovio wants you to know it’s racing as fast as it can.

“We plan to dose our first subjects in the next weeks and expect to report phase I interim results later this year,” noted the company’s PR.

And if Zika doesn’t pan out, there’s another pandemic lying around the next corner.

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