Its stock price ended the year up more than 400%. A Big Pharma giant became a partner, bolstering the company's image as an up-and-comer in biotech and bringing at least
Yet, after 13 years of work, there's no product on the market. The vaccines have only just begun to be tested in patients. The stock sits below
Not every start-up takes so long to enter the market. But some of the most important ideas require that. Their stories remind us that start-ups are volatile. They require patience, perseverance and a passion that doesn't fade under pressure. They require risk and sacrifice, not just from founders but from investors, partners, employees and in Inovio's case, doctors and patients.
Inovio's journey offers that example. Born in a lab at the
It would require impressive scientific discovery, the translation of discoveries into vaccines that work, a best-in-class team and lots of money. Kim was up for the challenge. He completed an MBA while working in Weiner's lab; he left a promising career at Merck to pursue the business.
Funding was always difficult. Three times, the company neared bankruptcy, but the men went months without pay, and Kim took out a second mortgage on his home. They eventually raised
In 2009, they merged with Inovio Biomedical and tapped the public market to raise more than
Over time, the pair developed a pipeline of products, prioritizing based on data showing the likelihood of better treating or preventing disease.
"Let's build a sustainable company where you're not dependent upon the success or failure of a binary event," Kim says. That meant exploring a preventative malaria vaccine and earning funding from the
A cervical pre-cancer treatment is now furthest along, with results of a phase two study in humans coming soon. Another experimental product, Kim says, could treat 85% of cancers, including breast and lung cancer.
At times, development seemed slow, says
But the Big Pharma partnership, a deal with Roche to collaborate on prostate cancer therapy and a treatment for hepatitis B, came earlier than expected.
"Validating the platform with a Big Pharma partnership is something we think is positive," Selvaraju says. "I'd give them a B, and I think if they hit with the cervical cancer data, I'd give them an A."
Kim compared the process of securing the deal to "a yearlong colonoscopy, in terms of tho-roughness." To keep the staff engaged, Kim and Weiner award employees stock options. To keep investors, analysts and the medical community interested, Inovio has published more than 70 papers in the last five years.
That helped fuel the stock last year, says Duncan, who rates the stock a buy. "These guys are doing a good job of articulating the story, and it's becoming mature enough to attract the attention of a broader set of investors."
But how long will they wait? It might be four years before a vaccine enters the market, Kim says.
Buy or hold, Inovio remains a question mark.
Most Popular Stories
- Koch Brothers Step up Anti-Obamacare Campaign
- FDIC Sues Big Banks Over Rate Manipulation
- Stocks Close Lower Ahead of Crimea Vote
- FDIC Accuses Big Banks of Fraud, Conspiracy
- Jittery Investors Dumping Russian Stocks
- U.S. Consumer Sentiment Falls in Early March
- Is Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in Andaman Sea?
- Ulta Shares Look Good on Strong Q4
- Vybz Kartel Convicted of Murder
- JLo Turns the Tables in New Vid: 'I Luh Ya Papi'