Inovio Pharmaceuticals, founded in 1983, engages in DNA vaccine research through subsidiaries VGX Pharmaceuticals and VGX Animal Health. The company became incorporated in 2001, in Delaware, and is currently headquartered in Blue Bell, PA, USA. The three companies focus on the discovery and development of DNA vaccines for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases. The CEO of Inovio, Dr. Joseph Kim, co-founded VGX Pharmaceuticals with DNA vaccine pioneer Professor David Wyner (University of Pennsylvania), in December 2000. In June 2009, his company merged with Inovio Pharma. As of early 2011, Inovio employed approximately 40 people.
A major factor in Inovio's growth has been the development of their proprietary electroporation method for in vivo DNA delivery. VGX Animal Health achieved its first major DNA vaccine milestone in 1996, when the first small animal study was completed using the electroporation method. The first license agreement for this technique was formed in 2004, with pharmaceutical giant Merck. That same year, the first clinical study in humans was begun, using the novel electroporation technology, and in 2008, the first DNA-based product was approved for use in swine (growth hormone replacement hormone (GHRH)).
Inovio's research has shown that their DNA vaccines, when delivered using their novel in vivo electorporation method, can increase vaccine gene expression and enhance immune responses to a number of diseases. The company was awarded $23.5 million in 2010 by NIH, to pursue treatments for HIV infection and in April 2010, Inovio Pharma was named the "Best Early Stage Biotech" company at the 2010 World Vaccine Congress. The award honored not only their novel electroporation method, but clinical-stage vaccines for influenza, HIV and cancer.
The Inovio proprietary electroporation method works by generating small electric pulses that create tiny holes in cell membranes, making cells more permeable. As a result, plasmid-based DNA vaccines are able to enter cells more easily. There, the DNA undergoes transcription along with the rest of the genes in the cell, and the antigenic protein product induces production of antigens and T-cells that target the invading or diseased cells. Electroporation can be used without anesthetic, and use of DNA vaccines generates a strong immune response directed specifically at the unwanted cells.
Inovio also has a novel platform for making DNA vaccine constructs called the "Syncon" technology. This bioinformatics system is capable of determining what codons are shared among variants of a pathogen, what possible genetic "drift" patterns are most likely and the probable outcome of mutations. Taking this information, and combining it with codon usage that is optimized to human cells, Inovio generates DNA vaccines to address the variability of pathogens like influenza or HIV. During an interview with Dr. Kim, in March 2011, he was asked what makes Inovio stand out from other companies developing DNA vaccines, to which he replied that Inovio has "better DNA vaccine constructs" and "better delivery".