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Finnish scientists are developing nasal COVID-19 vaccine

Seppo Ylä-Herttuala

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Helsinki is developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

The development makes use of gene transfer technology that has been developed in Kuopio. The scientists state that the efficacy of the vaccine can possibly be tested already this autumn.

Based on a safe adenovirus carrier

The vaccine will be administered as a nasal spray, using gene transfer technology. Academy Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttula’s research group at the A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences is internationally recognized for the development of this technology. The vaccine is based on a safe adenovirus carrier, which will contain genetic information on how to produce COVID-19 virus surface protein in humans. The administration of the vaccine as a spray into the nose and the upper respiratory tract will start the formation of antibodies against the COVID-19 virus.

According to Ylä-Herttuala, the development of the vaccine is made easier by the fact that there is an abundance of just one protein on the surface of the COVID-19 virus, and this is the protein against which antibodies are formed. For the vaccine, only the protein and not the virus itself, are needed. Many other vaccines use the disease-causing virus either in a weakened or in a modified form.

“Similar vaccines that are based on gene transfer have also been developed against the SARS and MERS viruses, and with promising results,” he says.

Clinical trials perhaps already in the autumn

Although the drug development process is moving forward rapidly, Ylä-Herttuala points out that it is not possible to roll out the domestic COVID-19 vaccine on a large scale this year, because its efficacy and safety need to be properly demonstrated. “However, we will be able to start clinical trials quickly, perhaps already in the autumn.”

With a special permit, the new vaccine’s approval process can be expedited. Ylä-Hettuala believes that the nasal vaccine could be available for the second wave of the pandemic.

It can play a role in safeguarding Finland’s self-sufficiency and security of supply

The scientists emphasize that their vaccine development does not seek to compete with that of multinational pharmaceutical companies. Instead, it can play a role in safeguarding Finland’s self-sufficiency and security of supply. The scientists also hope that the development and funding of the COVID-19 vaccine in Finland would be carried out in a coordinated manner.

“It would be a smart move to focus our limited resources on a single, large-scale project. We could accomplish great things,” Ylä-Herttula says.

Photo of Seppo Ylä-Herttuala: University of Eastern Finland