A newly-founded Finnish academic spin-out is working to develop and introduce to the markets a nasal spray vaccine against COVID-19.
The vaccine is based on research at the University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland and the new company is called Rokote Laboratories Finland. The founders and board members of the company are the vaccine developers Academy Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala from the University of Eastern Finland, Professor Kalle Saksela and Professor Kari Alitalo from the University of Helsinki, and Mr Pasi Kemppainen, MSc (Techn.).
The University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland are also co-founders of, and shareholders in, the company.
Based on gene transfer technology
The vaccine is based on gene transfer technology developed by Ylä-Herttuala’s research group, and the technology has already been used in several clinical trials using gene therapy to treat cardiovascular diseases and cancer, states the University of Helsinki in its press release. The vaccine uses an adenovirus carrier that contains a cloned DNA strand, which causes nasopharyngeal cells to produce the virus protein which, in turn, produces a response to the vaccine. There is no actual SARS-CoV-2 virus in the vaccine.
Preliminary results show that the vaccine has performed well in animal studies, states the University of Helsinki.
“The vaccines currently in use provide a clearly lower protection against the South African variant, which will likely be the dominant virus in the next wave. Our vaccine already takes into account the most important variants, i.e. the South African, Brazilian and the UK one.”
“Even if we were able to vaccinate the entire population, at least people in medical risk groups will still need new vaccines against new variants in the upcoming years. The vaccines currently in use provide a clearly lower protection against the South African variant, which will likely be the dominant virus in the next wave. Our vaccine already takes into account the most important variants, i.e. the South African, Brazilian and the UK one. There will certainly be a demand for this type of vaccine,” says Professor of Virology Kalle Saksela from the University of Helsinki.
Nasal delivery was chosen as the new vaccine’s method of administration because the virus is also naturally transmitted through the airways. Nasal administration seems to induce a wider immune response than intramuscular administration, state the researchers.
“Vaccines injected intramuscularly produce IgG antibodies in the bloodstream, but nasal vaccines also produce an IgA response that protects mucous membranes. We assume that this can also prevent those who have received the vaccine from transmitting the virus,” says Ylä-Hettuala.
First clinical trials in Finland
The company is now negotiating on funding to ensure further development of the vaccine and its moving towards clinical trials. After being granted a marketing authorization, the vaccine could ensure Finnish and European security of supply, and vaccine self-sufficiency. In Kuopio, there is already the commercial technology needed to produce the vaccine, they state in its press release.
The company will carry out the first clinical vaccine trials in Finland. Many people have already expressed an interest in participating in these trials, but the participants will be recruited digitally to obtain samples that are population-representative and comparable, states the University of Helsinki in its press release.
Photo of Seppo Ylä-Herttuala: University of Eastern Finland