Team including EATRIS Finnish National Director develop nasal spray vaccine against COVID-19

Published 10 March 2021

A vaccine produced in a bioreactor goes under further processing in a sterile laminar flow cabinet. The photo is from the National Virus Vector Laboratory at the A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences in the University of Eastern Finland.

Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala – who sits on the EATRIS Board of National Directors representing Finland – is part of a team of researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and University of Helsinki who are working to develop and introduce to the markets a nasal spray vaccine against COVID-19.

Newly-founded academic spin-out Rokote Laboratories Finland Ltd has used gene transfer technology developed by Professor Ylä-Herttuala’s research group, and the technology has already been successfully used in several clinical trials to treat cardiovascular diseases and cancer. The vaccine uses a safe 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, and clinical testing in humans will start within a few months.

Nasal delivery was chosen as the new vaccine’s method of administration because the virus is also naturally transmitted through the airways. Indeed, nasal administration seems to induce a wider immune response than intramuscular administration.

Professor Ylä-Herttuala says: “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.”

According to the researchers working on the project, current vaccination programmes do not eliminate the need for new vaccines, as new variants are expected to cause new waves of infection.

“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.

Rokote Laboratories Finland Ltd will carry out the first clinical vaccine trials in Finland. In Kuopio (Finland), there is already the commercial technology needed to produce the vaccine. The founders and board members of Rokote Laboratories Finland Ltd are the vaccine developers Professor Ylä-Herttuala from the University of Eastern Finland, Professor Saksela and Professor Alitalo from the University of Helsinki, and Mr Kemppainen, MSc (Techn.). The University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland are also co-founders of, and shareholders in, the company. Rokote Laboratories Finland Ltd is currently negotiating funding to ensure further development of the vaccine and its moving towards clinical trials. After being granted marketing authorisation, the vaccine could ensure Finnish and European security of supply, and vaccine self-sufficiency.

Mr Pasi Kemppainen adds:”The vaccine can be manufactured in considerable quantities here in Kuopio and, in the long term, it can also be licensed outside Europe. The current focus is, of course, on the COVID vaccine, but the same method can also be used to develop vaccines against other viruses”

News and further details about the development has been published in Science Business here. For more information and queries, contact the University of Eastern Finland via this page.