Inovio axes staff, chops R&D programs in chase for elusive commercial win — though there's still a lot on their plate
Rallying around its late-stage HPV projects, Inovio Pharmaceuticals $INO is slashing 28% of its workforce — around 80 staffers — and axing several early-stage programs to bring its burn rate down by 25%.
The Plymouth Meeting, PA-based biotech insists that the sole motive is to consolidate its scattered pipeline, creating “a more efficient organization with greater financial flexibility and a longer runway,” according to CEO Joseph Kim. While Inovio ended the first quarter with $128.0 million in cash and cash equivalents, though, its stock has tumbled 28% since the beginning of the year to $3. It’s fallen another 13% pre-market.
And even after the restructuring Inovio’s remaining team of 200 will still be spread among a sizable array of projects — reflecting a “Johnny-on-the-spot” optics that the 40-year-old company has been chastised for.
The top priority is lead asset VGX-3100, a DNA-based immunotherapy supposed to prevent cancer by treating cervical dysplasia caused by HPV.
Inovio had intended to kickstart Phase III in 2016, but a clinical hold issued by FDA regulators pushed the timeline back by at least half a year. Three years later, it has finally completed enrollment for the first trial and begun recruiting patients for the next.
Next on the list is INO-3107 for recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, a rare disease also caused by HPV infections. Having sat on the backburner for a while, the drug will get some fresh clinical action within 12 months.
Then there’s MEDI0457, the only asset that AstraZeneca is still interested in after walking away from a partnership dating back to 2015. The ongoing study, which the pharma giant is steering, studies the drug in combination with Imfinzi in head and neck cancer. Phase II data are expected by next August.
The last two programs in focus have nothing to do with HPV. After abandoning a plan to advance INO-5401 for bladder cancer, Inovio now wants to see if it has a future in glioblastoma multiforme — where they see a higher unmet medical need. It also has its hands on preclinical DNA-encoded bi-specific T cell engagers, a technology it’s keen to move forward.
Of course, Inovio still has all the other partner-funded programs: Lassa and MERS vaccine programs funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Zika project backed by the Gates Foundation; and a delivery device supported by the Medical CBRN Defense Consortium.
Earlier this year Inovio had spun out its immunotherapy platform to a startup dubbed Geneos Therapeutics, bringing in Santé Ventures to lead a $10.5 million launch round.
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