VTT Ventures Oy has established a spin-off which develops next generation
allergy vaccines. The spin-off is called Desentum Oy, and its operations are
based on a VTT patented technology. Years of research, testing and official
approval cycles are still required before the vaccines are ready for launch.
VTT holds patents on gene technology which can be applied to alter the
structure of an allergen, i.e. a protein causing allergy, so that it will
cause less allergic symptoms than the original allergen, while remaining
effective in desensitisation therapy.
"The vaccine helps to improve the protection to the allergen, thus,
alleviating the symptoms. That’s why we prefer to use the term vaccine,
instead of medication," VTT’s Senior Advisor Hans Söderlund explains. The
research objective is to develop an orally administered vaccine.
The foundation for this development rests on a scientific breakthrough dating
back five years to a co-operation project involving VTT, the University of
Eastern Finland and HUCH Skin and Allergy Hospital. Researchers were able to
determine how an IgE antibody binds an allergen and were the first to present
a detailed 3D structure of this complex. This proved to be different from what
scientists around the world had anticipated.
Initially, Desentum Oy will develop a product line of 20 to 25 new
hypoallergens which could be used as vaccines for some of the most important
allergies. These include pollens (birch, hay, common wormwood, etc.),
allergens from pets, and proteins associated with food allergies (fish, nuts,
apple, celery). Clinical testing of the first products is anticipated to start
within the next three years.
Pekka Mattila, Desentum Oy's Managing Director, knows how to run a
biotechnology company and increase its business opportunities. He was one of
the founding members of the Finnzymes Group and acted as its CEO until 2010,
when the company was sold to the American Thermo Fisher Scientific.
What is an allergy?
Allergies are caused by the immune reaction to normally harmless proteins –
allergens - present in environment, food or consumer and medical products. Due
to sensitisation, the body generates Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. Next
time when these antibodies recognise the same allergen, they trigger an
allergic reaction and cause symptoms in the respiratory or digestive system,
or the skin. An extreme allergic reaction may cause anaphylaxis or even death.
The prevalence of allergies and allergic reactions has increased in the
industrialised countries, and they are now estimated to belong to the top five
most costly disease groups. In Europe, the number of people suffering from
allergies is estimated to exceed 80 million, while in the US the corresponding
number is 65 million. According to further estimates, half of the European
population will suffer from an allergy by 2015.
In the US alone, the market for antiallergic drugs is anticipated to exceed
USD 15 billion by 2015. In 2010, the estimated market for new allergy vaccines
is approximately USD 700 million.