A €20,000 donation by Pfizer to coronavirus research at the University of Helsinki

16.6.2020
Wishing to contribute to important research on the COVID-19 disease, Pfizer chose the University of Helsinki as the recipient, since the University’s high standard of basic research has made a quick start possible, says Jaakko Parkkinen, medical director at Pfizer.

The pharmaceutical company Pfizer Oy has donated €20,000 to the coronavirus research conducted at the University of Helsinki Faculty of Medicine.

– Very important research is being conducted at the University of Helsinki to beat the COVID-19 disease, and Pfizer wishes to do its part in supporting these efforts, says Jaakko Parkkinen, Pfizer’s medical director.

The decision on donating to the University of Helsinki was influenced by the fact that the Faculty of Medicine already had top-level expertise and research focused on diagnostic virology, enabling a quick start in related projects.

– You can say that the epidemic is an excellent indication of the importance of basic research, Parkkinen notes.

– It’s been great to see that we have been prepared for this.

Donation to be used in diagnostic research

The donation by Pfizer Oy will be used on diagnostic research carried out by the research group headed by Associate Professor Tarja Sironen at the Faculty of Medicine, with the focus on diagnosing COVID-19 in patients.

– All of the donations we receive make an enormous difference to the coronavirus research conducted at the University of Helsinki, says Dean Risto Renkonen of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki.

The group headed by Associate Professor Sironen is particularly looking into what kinds of antibodies patients start producing when they are infected by the coronavirus. What kind of protection do they provide and how?

– We know that patients produce antibodies after contracting the virus, but what remains unclear for now is which of the antibodies protect them against reinfection, Renkonen says.

Thanks to the University of Helsinki’s decades-long research tradition in zoonotic virology, that is, research on viruses transmitted from animals to humans, it only took roughly a week from determining the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus last winter to initiating the diagnostic research efforts.

Results expected soon, but the work continues

Renkonen points out that the diagnostic research carried out at the University of Helsinki is now at an advanced stage.

– Within a year, we will certainly have a better understanding of which antibodies offer protection against COVID-19 and which will reveal to the doctor that the patient has already had the disease. These are both useful things to know.

However, the demand for viral research will not end there, nor will it end if a COVID-19 vaccine is eventually developed.

– We will at some point encounter another unfamiliar disease transmitted from animals to humans, and it is then that we will need this infrastructure and the special expertise of the entire scientific community, Renkonen states.