Caught in a standoff with its contract manufacturer over Covid-19 vaccine, Inovio files suit in an attempt to break free while rivals race ahead
Inovio was one of the first vaccine developers to snag attention for a jab that their execs said promised to end the Covid-19 pandemic. Using their own unique DNA tech, CEO Joseph Kim said it took just 3 hours to work it out.
But while rivals are racing to the finish line with ambitious plans to make vast quantities of their vaccines with billions of dollars of deals, Inovio is still stuck at the starting line on manufacturing.
The biotech — which has yet to develop a single approved product in 4 decades — says it currently has been stymied by a standoff with its longterm contract manufacturer. And Inovio filed a lawsuit to free itself from the relationship and move on to new partners who can make hundreds of millions of doses — if it passes muster.
The problem, Inovio claims in its lawsuit, is that a Korean-owned company called VGXI, which has long been responsible for making the batches of vaccines the biotech uses in trials, can’t make the vaccine in commercial quantity and refuses to transfer the technology required to others who can — despite being contractually bound to do so.
VGXI is building a plant, the biotech adds, but that won’t come online until 2022 — an eternity in pandemic timing, especially as a group of vaccine makers who have manufacturing capacity either in-house or contracted or both are racing to start providing vaccines as early as this fall, with billions of doses possible next year.
Inovio is asking a judge for damages as well as an order to shift the tech to new vendors.
While VGXI, based in The Woodlands outside of Houston, TX, hasn’t filed a response yet, Inovio included several letters from their COO, Dorothy Peterson, saying that the manufacturing tech involved is proprietary to her company. One other letter from Peterson to a company called Ology, which had sought to make the vaccine for Inovio, demanded that they stop using tech that belonged to VGXI.
Peterson alleged that Inovio violated their supply agreement by going to other manufacturers — which Inovio denied — but offered to work out a new master supply agreement to take its place.
Like other companies that jumped into the Covid-19 race, Inovio has seen its stock price gyrate higher on speculation over which company will be a success. Operation Warp Speed out of the White House reportedly is set on assisting a small group of vaccine developers, like Moderna. But Inovio wasn’t mentioned.
Today, the biotech’s stock is down about 5%, but it’s still roughly triple the mark it traded at in late February, when the outbreak went global.
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