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Finnish academic spin-out to launch nasal COVID-19 vaccine

A vaccine is processed in a sterile laminar-flow cabinet in the A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland.

UEF/Raija Törrönen

Rokote Laboratories Finland is moving toward the market launch of its nasal spray vaccine against COVID-19.

The vaccine is based on research undertaken by the University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland. It takes advantage of a clinically proven gene transfer technology developed under the tutelage of Seppo Ylä-Herttuala, an academy professor at the University of Eastern Finland. It triggers an immune response by prompting nasopharyngeal cells to produce the virus protein with a safe adenovirus carrier containing a cloned DNA strain.

Nasal administration was selected as the delivery method because the novel coronavirus is transmitted through the airways. The method has been tentatively shown to induce a broader immune response than intramuscular administration.

Ylä-Herttuala explained that while intramuscular vaccines produce immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies in the bloodstream, nasal vaccines also produce immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies, which protect mucous membranes.

“We assume that this can also prevent those who have received the vaccine from transmitting the virus,” he said.

Rokote Laboratories is presently talking to investors about the further development of the vaccine, with plans to commence clinical trials in humans in the coming months in Finland. The commercial technology to produce the vaccine is already in place in Kuopio, south-eastern Finland.

The academic spin-out views that, once granted market authorisation, the vaccine could contribute to vaccinal self sufficiency and security of supply in both Finland and Europe.

Ylä-Herttuala, one of the four founders and board members of Rokote Laboratories, pointed out that the need to develop vaccines to rein in the pandemic persists despite the launch of vaccination campaigns, as new variants are expected to continue causing waves of infections. The South African variant, for example, has been found to be at least partly resistant to the vaccines in use today.

“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,” echoed Kalle Saksela, a professor of virology at the University of Helsinki.

“There will certainly be […] demand for this type of vaccine,” he affirmed.

By: Aleksi Teivainen