Inovio CEO Dr. Joseph Kim Pops By The Pub

LONDON–Life charmingly imitated art last night, as London’s unexpected cold snap and expected early dark drove us to the fireside of the Coach and Horses at Kew Green. We ordered chips, which really aren’t French fries and  which  only the British can make well, and malt vinegar, and took solace in fidgeting with our iPhone where we found a friendly new message from DiaMedica $DMAC CEO Rick Pauls wanting to chat. But a fire on a Friday night in coldest January importunes the gift of the gab, and I wasn’t really getting that from the busy  strawberry-blonde waitress, sincere though she was. Then—ping! Wish bestowed: there he was on my phone, Joseph Kim of Inovio ($INO), a colleague with whom I love speaking, and one who seems to share my obliviousness to the passage of time as the paragraphs unspool. Talking to Kim is a blast…..so many ideas at the ready, like a stableful of antsy horses each of whose bridles needs a periodic restraining tug.

Zap!…..and the electrons had hurtled a new publication across the ocean at me. And we’ve got it newly posted for you in our media centre…..I encourage you to go have a look. The paper’s senior author is Kim dissertation supervisor and Inovio advisor David Weiner, PhD, of Penn, whom Kim openly thinks is a Nobel short-lister. The work, funded by Inovio, is based on the company’s dMAb(TM) platform.

Here’s the idea. Inoculate someone against an infection, and weeks must pass while that subject’s immune system churns through the whole proper cycle of contriving and making protective antibodies. Or, take the case of giving monoclonal antibodies as therapeutic agents: because they’ve  become drugs their pharmacokinetics are seldom perfect…..side effects, readministration, threshold effects, half lives, that whole down-on-the-pharm set of considerations.

Taking literally years of progressive thinking and fine tuning and perfection, Inovio has invented a gun, something  nearly resembling a Star Trek phaser, that can be  held to the upper arm and will via electricity, create transient pores in  the membranes of muscle cells in your upper arm and  shove through those evanescent pores DNA constructs. Befuddled at first, the muscle cells soon recognize the DNA as a recipe and begin cooking according to it. Soup’s on. The muscle begins to express, or secrete, as the case may be, the new protein product called for by the recipe. Within days, there’s meaningful new protein elaboration. Fine tuning voltage, capacitance, current duration and waveform of the electrical impulse that effects this required years of slog. Inovio regards it as a platform of extreme power and potentially considerable revenue. Not only can the method be used to introduce DNA that encodes tumor antigens to retrain the immune system, but cDNA encoding therapeutic monoclonal  antibodies can too be plonked into muscle.

Here’s where the company has been brainstorming. On this side of the pond, a 50 mg dose of $MRK’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) costs around US$2300, and annualized checkpoint inhibitor therapy costs can run to US$200,000. Despite the fact that a molecule of monoclonal antibody is actually 4 separate peptide chains assembled as a kind of biheterodimer, monoclonals are encoded by DNA just like everything  else and you can backconfigure your monoclonal of interest into a cDNA clone, inserted into the Inovio electroporator gun, and instruct your own muscle to begin cranking out whatever antibody you desire. You can alter peak expression and duration of expression by tweaks. What if instead of paying Merck or Bristol-Myers ($BMY) top dollar for checkpoint inhibitor injections you bypassed that, received an Inovio zap, and  induced your own body to crank out sustained levels of checkpoint inhibitor….doing so in a way that exhibits smoother and more bespoke pharmacokinetics?

Inovio regards it as a lovely idea….and the paper we introduce today is a first salvo along those lines as they explore this pathway of enriching immuno-oncology, adding options, saving costs and boosting shareholder revenue. We think it’s dazzling and savvy. As Associate Editor Jonathan Coulborn said last night when I told him about it, “Gee is there anything this dynamo company can’t do?” Maybe Jon….but you sure have to look hard to find it. Kim intends growing Inovio into an Amgen ($AMGN) or Genentech ($RHHBY) powerhouse edifice, and while Kim is way too nice a fellow to be regarded as a human bulldozer, smart people learn to make way for him and even plot his trajectory.

Great seeing you Joseph! Stay warm and drop by any time. You’ve lots of friends here.

 

Disclosures: Of mentioned equities, the author has long positions in $INO, $DMAC, and $MRK and  will not trade in  those  for 7 days after this column  appears. Dr. KSS holds no short positions. Copyright 2019 BioPub. May not be reproduced without permission. This column is not intended as advice or solicitation to trade in Inovio shares,  and diligence is due before entering the biotech equities market.