Inovio Pharmaceuticals and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) have dosed subjects in a Phase I clinical trial of the former’s DNA candidate vaccine, INO-4500, to prevent infection from the Lassa virus.

Inovio plans to enrol about 60 volunteers to evaluate the safety, tolerability and immune responses of INO-4500.

The first-in-human, placebo-controlled, blinded, dose-escalation trial, as well as its INO-4500 programme, is fully funded through a global partnership with CEPI.

CEPI Vaccine Development director Melanie Saville said: “With marked increases in the number of cases documented in Nigeria over the last two years and outbreaks occurring annually, Lassa fever remains a serious public health threat across West Africa.”

Inovio plans to use these study results and expects to advance its Lassa candidate vaccine into a Phase II field trial in endemic countries of West Africa later this year and next year.

Inovio president and CEO Dr Joseph Kim said: “Inovio’s class-leading synthetic nucleic vaccines delivered intradermally with its proprietary Cellectra efficacy enhancing systems are well suited to rapidly produce countermeasures against emerging viral threats potentially protecting large populations from a pandemic.

“Inovio has rapidly advanced several global health candidate vaccines, including those against HIV, Ebola, MERS, and Zika, and has reported above 90% immune response rates from multiple clinical studies. We join our partner CEPI in the shared quest to bring new vaccines to medicine and save lives.”

Last year, Inovio received a $56m grant from CEPI to develop vaccine candidates through Phase II against Lassa fever and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).