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AU steps up the virus research with millions from the Carlsberg Foundation

Professor Jørgen Kjems from MBG and iNANO will collaborate with researchers from Health, the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Serum Institute, and with DKK 25 millions from the Carlsberg Foundation they will develop methods for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infections. The goal is at the same time to equip the world to better withstand future viral epidemics.

Professor Jørgen Kjems leads the group of AU researchers participating in the project. Photo: Peter F. Gammelby
Professor Jørgen Kjems leads the group of AU researchers participating in the project. Photo: Peter F. Gammelby

The epidemic of corona virus is tightening around the world right now, and it is urgent to develop methods to limit similar outbreaks in the future. Therefore, the Carlsberg Foundation now grants DKK 25 million. DKK in research support to fight virus epidemics, both current and future.

The grant goes to a group of Danish protein, vaccine and diagnostic scientists from Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Serum Institute.

The task is in short time to deliver a new vaccine against Covid-19 based on a promising but unproven vaccine concept. In addition, the research team must develop a diagnostic test and alternative treatment options based on new aptamer technologies (see fact box).

Begins in safe facilities 

Although Aarhus University has physically shut down research activities in laboratories to curb coronary infection, efforts are being made to open secure research facilities - quite extraordinarily in this situation - so that AU research also can help solve the worldwide corona crisis.

Professor Jørgen Kjems from iNANO and the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics leads the group of AU researchers participating in the project:

“I look forward to starting this project as soon as possible, which is the result of the serious situation in Denmark. We are joining together across many disciplines to solve these tasks with completely new innovative methods. Although we may be late for the current epidemic, I am convinced that, with this research effort, we will be much stronger next time virus ravages the world, ”he says.

About aptamers:

“For a virus to take over the control of our cells, it must pass through the cell membrane, and this is precisely this initial step in the infection process that we want to block. To that end, we have developed a new type of aptamer, that is, small DNA-like molecules comparable to antibodies. They can be designed to specifically bind all proteins on the surface of the corona virus, giving hope that the drug will also be active against future coronaviruses.”, says Jørgen Kjems. 

Three tools are missing

Professor AU Søren Riis Paludan from the Department of Biomedicine also participates from the AU. He explains his group's role in the project:

“We need to test the antiviral effects of antibodies and aptamers on virus replication. To that end, we set up so-called sensitive assays for SARS-CoV2 replication to distinguish effective treatment from less effective or ineffective treatment."

The research project is initiated based on the recognition that at least three tools are needed to get the current pandemic under control.

One of the tools is better and simpler tests to diagnose patients and to assess the spread of infection - including the development of “cure immunity” in the population. The second is anti-viral drugs for the specific treatment of Covid-19 patients. And third, of course, is a vaccine that can prevent the disease.

The grant must prevent  

In light of experts' estimates that another wave of the epidemic may come this fall, it is urgent to invest in research resources that can prevent a recurrence of the serious situation such as the one the world is in right now. This is stated by the Carlsberg Foundation's chairman, Professor Flemming Besenbacher, in the press release on the grant:

“The Carlsberg Foundation has moved quickly and has assembled a team of the most outstanding Danish researchers in the relevant disciplines that can help fight the Corona virus and the disease Covid-19 - both in relation to the current pandemic and in the future. It is now clear that in several areas we are on the heels of the virus and its ability to spread. Preparations that could have been made before the outbreak were not made. We want to help prevent us from getting into a similar situation again”.

The research project is led by Professor Ali Salanti from the University of Copenhagen. Professor Jørgen Kjems is group leader at the University of Aarhus and Professor Michael Theisen is group leader at Statens Serum Institut.

You can read the Carlsberg Foundation's press release on the grant here.


Professor Jørgen Kjems,

Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO) and Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics  

Email: jk@mbg.au.dk

Phone: 2899 2086