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U.S. works with Inovio in prep for bioterrorism vaccinations

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The administration of vaccines has attracted increased attention in recent years. On one level, the experience needs to be improved for people afraid of needles. But the problems with the current options become particularly pronounced when emergency mass vaccinations are envisaged.

U.S. officials have recognized this potential pitfall and are investing in vaccine delivery as part of defenses against a pandemic or terrorist attack. Inovio Pharmaceuticals is the latest beneficiary of this push, netting a $3.5 million U.S. grant to advance development of its DNA vaccine delivery device. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) funding will support work to make the device capable of simultaneously administering multiple synthetic vaccines via skin surface electroporation. Millisecond electrical pulses are used to create temporary pores in cells for the vaccine to pass through.

Inovio is collaborating with the U.S. Army on the device with a view to making it suitable for rapid vaccinations of military troops against infectious diseases. The collaboration builds on research into the creation of a DNA vaccine against the Lassa virus. Inovio was encouraged by results in animals--with the electroporation delivery being well tolerated--but the device fell short as a mass-vaccination tool. The Lassa virus is still the focus of the new project, with Inovio looking into how to deliver multiple vaccines against it and other arenaviruses. Immune interference becomes a risk when multiple vaccines are delivered at once, while electroporation currently limits dosages.

Inovio aims to overcome both of these problems in the latest project, giving the U.S. a device that can quickly protect troops against the Lassa virus. The virus is listed with anthrax and botulism as a "category A" public health threat. Lassa virus is native to sub-Saharan Africa, where it infects those who eat rats, killing 5,000 people a year. The U.S. has been working on diagnostic tests to ensure that terrorist use of the virus would be spotted quickly. Then, if the latest project succeeds, a mass vaccination using the Inovio device could begin.

- here's the Inovio release

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