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Puzzle covid-19 virus.

Academy of Finland grants 1.34 million euros of funding for COVID-19 vaccine and drug development projects at UEF

The projects to be funded from the Academy of Finland's call for research into COVID-19 vaccines and pharmaceutical development were announced on 24 July. Two projects from the University of Eastern Finland were selected for funding. Academy Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala secured 1,079,000 euros of funding for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine that is based on an adenovirus-based gene delivery vector. Professor Antti Poso secured 260,000 euros for a project that seeks to find ways to mitigate and prevent the effects of COVID-19 on the human body by repurposing existing drugs.

The Academy of Finland selected for funding high-quality projects that already have ongoing SARS-CoV-2 vaccine and drug development research, or research into the efficacy, safety and impact of coronavirus vaccines and medicines.

An effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine

Academy Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala’s research group at University of Eastern Finland A.I. Virtanen Institute for Molecular Sciences plays a key role in a consortium led by Professor Kalle Saksela at the University of Helsinki, seeking to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. The consortium also includes Academy Professor Kari Alitalo from the University of Helsinki. Academy Professor Ylä-Herttuala’s funding is the largest among those granted to universities, and his project also secured Academy of Finland funding from a special call organised in May.

The aim of the project is to urgently develop an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine that could be manufactured on an industrial scale in Finland.  The project makes use of an adenovirus-based gene delivery vector producing the viral S protein in the vaccinees in order to launch an immune defence against the COVID-19 virus.  Adenovector technology has long been developed and successfully utilised by Academy Professor Ylä-Herttuala’s group in research addressing gene therapy for cancer and cardiovascular diseases, as well as in clinical trials carried out in large patient cohorts.

According to the researchers, the project is already well underway. Their leading Ad5-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate is in the production phase, and will be ready for testing in animals during the summer. The project will develop and test several additional vaccine candidates, taking the best one of them all the way to the preparative phase of the last stage of the human clinical trials, i.e. phase 3.

Repurposing drugs for COVID-19

Professor Antti Poso's research group at the University of Eastern Finland School of Pharmacy is a member of the Covidd consortium that also includes the research groups of Academy Research Fellow Markku Varjosalo, Research Director Petri Auvinen and Professor Sarah Butcher at the University of Helsinki.

The project seeks to identify drug molecules that could interfere with the replication of the virus in the human body. Members of the consortium represent different disciplines ranging from virology to protein-protein interaction and structural biology, and to drug discovery. Using a multidisciplinary approach, the researchers will test existing drugs that have already been approved for use in humans, or drugs that have been tested in clinical trials but found to be ineffective for their intended use.  The researchers are trying to find out which drugs or combination of drugs against human proteins would inhibit or slow down the replication of the virus. Repurposing existing drug molecules is considerably faster than the development of completely new molecules.

Professor Poso's research group will use a computer-aided screening method that has been developed in Kuopio, allowing the researchers to select the most critical drug targets and also drug molecules that have the highest probability to be successful in preventing or mitigating the effects of COVID-19.  The project will also make use of CSC’s supercomputers in Kajaani.

For further information, please contact:

Academy Professor Seppo Ylä-Herttuala

Professor Antti Poso