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Inovio Tells Court Supplier Is Holding Covid Vaccine ‘Hostage’

June 3, 2020, 10:23 PM

Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. alleges in a court filing that its experimental coronavirus vaccine is being “held hostage” by a supplier that won’t turn over critical information needed to make it on a larger scale.

In a complaint filed in state court in Pennsylvania Wednesday, Inovio alleges that its contract manufacturer, South Korea-based GeneOne Life Science Inc. and its VGXI unit, doesn’t have the manufacturing capacity to make large quantities of the vaccine but won’t provide the information to let others do it.

The fight comes at a critical time for the Pennsylvania-based company. Should Inovio succeed in creating a workable vaccine, it could quickly be put in the position of needing to produce hundreds of millions if not billions of doses to meet global demand.

“VGXI is holding the vaccine and world health hostage, perhaps to squeeze more money from Inovio or because it is having buyer’s remorse over its existing contract,” Inovio said in the complaint.

Officials with VGXI, which has a facility in Texas, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left by telephone and on an online form on the company’s website.

VGXI has made enough of the vaccine candidate for the initial clinical trials but is blocking efforts by Inovio to prepare for a ramp-up of production, planned in anticipation of regulatory approval, said Joseph Kim, Inovio’s chief executive.

“In this pandemic space things are not being done serially, we don’t wait until we have great efficacy data before we start to do large-scale manufacturing,” Kim said. “We actually have to start that now.”

Inovio said it needs to have 1 million doses ready by the end of the year. Should it succeed, it would need at least 50 to 100 million doses -- if not billions -- next year. VGXI takes two weeks to make 30,000 doses and is “acutely aware of its capacity constraints,” according to the complaint.

Inovio wants the judge to order VGXI to turn over information on the manufacturing process and quality procedures needed to make the vaccine. Inovio says that, under the contract, it owns the information but VGXI contends it would involve revealing trade secrets.

Typical vaccines use injections of inactive forms of the virus to trigger immune systems. Inovio’s technology uses part of the virus’s DNA to genetically encode the proteins called antigens to teach the immune system to create antibodies.

Inovio’s shares plunged 13% Wednesday after the New York Times reported that the White House was working with five pharmaceutical companies as part of its “Warp Speed” coronavirus vaccine program and Inovio was not on the list.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Cynthia Koons in New York at ckoons@bloomberg.net;
Susan Decker in Washington at sdecker1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net;
Brian Bremner at bbremner@bloomberg.net

Laurie Asséo

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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