The ultimate mission at Helix Nanotechnologies, Inc. (HelixNano) is to build technologies that unlock a future where freedom from cancer is a fundamental human right. But right now, the fight against a global pandemic needs all scientific hands on-deck. In response to this existential challenge, the HelixNano team is applying its expertise to deploy a novel vaccination approach against COVID-19.  McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Louis Falo, Jr., MD, PhD, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine with faculty appointments in the Department of Bioengineering of the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, the University of Pittsburgh UPMC Hillman Cancer Institute, and the Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and his team are partnered with HelixNano to help deliver its vaccine to patients.

HelixNano’s cancer drug would have mRNA deliver a message to kill cancers cells and attract immune cells to the tumor. Its cancer vaccine would use mRNA to deliver a message to make a cancer cell more visible to the human body’s immune system so that it could attack the cancer.

The idea behind that cancer vaccine is the same as HelixNano’s COVID-19 vaccine, except that the vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 goes after the virus instead of cancer cells, says Hannu Rajaniemi, PhD, co-Founder and CEO of HelixNano, Cambridge, MA. The mRNA delivers a message to make parts of the novel coronavirus visible to the immune system.

Beyond its own vaccine technology innovations, HelixNano is collaborating with Dr. Falo’s lab to make a vaccine technology that can be applied to the skin, rather than by a shot, which therefore can be self-administered.

“The mRNA platform has proven to be effective for vaccination but does have limitations including the requirement for very low temperatures (cold-chain) across the storage, delivery, and deployment process,” says Dr. Falo. “We imagine an mRNA vaccine that is stable at room temperature and can therefore be readily deployed in global vaccination campaigns the same way that one would distribute and apply Band-Aids.”

Separately, Dr. Falo’s lab has its own skin application vaccine called PittCoVacc, which has submitted preclinical data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Pre-Investigational New Drug Application.

Illustration:  UPMC.

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