New Finnish company to develop a nasal spray vaccine for COVID-19
The spin-out from the Universities of Helsinki and Eastern Finland will leverage years of research to test and bring to market a nasal spray vaccine against COVID-19.
A newly founded, Finnish academic spin-out company – Rokote Laboratories Finland Ltd. – is working to develop and bring to market a nasal spray vaccine targeting COVID-19.
The company’s founders and board members 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. The University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland are also co-founders of, and shareholders in, Rokote Laboratories Finland.
The vaccine is based on gene transfer technology developed by Academy Professor Ylä-Herttuala’s research group. According to the company, this technology has been successfully employed in clinical trials where gene therapies were used to treat cardiovascular diseases and cancer. The vaccine uses an adenovirus vector to deliver a cloned DNA strand. Intranasal delivery of the DNA causes nasopharyngeal cells to produce SARS-CoV-2 viral protein which induces an immune response. The vaccine performed well in in vivo studies with animal models and clinical testing is anticipated to start in Finland within a few months. (SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.)
According to Mr Kemppainen, the company is now negotiating on funding to ensure further development of the vaccine and its progression towards clinical trials.
The team said they began to develop the vaccine in spring 2020. Adding that nasal delivery was chosen as the new vaccine’s method of administration because the virus is naturally transmitted through the airways and some studies have shown that nasal administration seems to induce a wider immune response than intramuscular administration.
Academy Professor Ylä-Hettuala, who is also chairman of Rokote Laboratories Finland’s board of directors, explained: “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.”
He continued that the currently ongoing vaccination programmes do not eliminate the need for new vaccines, as new variants are expected to cause new waves of infection.
Professor of Virology, Kalle Saksela, from the University of Helsinki added: “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, ie, the South African, Brazilian and the UK one. There will certainly be a demand for this type of vaccine.”
The latest reports indicate that sera from people vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines is less effective against the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine had 57 percent efficacy in South Africa, where this variant is prevalent, versus 72 percent in the US; and Novavax’s vaccine had 49 percent efficacy in South Africa versus 90 percent in the UK.
Perhaps the worst outcome was with AstraZeneca’s vaccine trial in South Africa, which had <25 percent efficiency against mild and moderate disease and did not achieve the minimal international standards for emergency use.
Also, the P.1 (Brazilian) variant has some of the same mutations as the B.1.351 variant and could have a higher chance of re-infecting people.