Turku Life Science Companies on the Frontline of the Fight against COVID-19

  • Life science companies in the Turku region are developing solutions for COVID-19 diagnostics and treatment
  • Abacus Diagnostica, ArcDia and Labmaster have developed rapid testing for diagnosing COVID-19
  • Faron Pharmaseuticals is currently developing a drug for treating COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic news reporting has not been all negative. News raising hopes that this pandemic can be beaten have been emerging also from Turku region in Finland, which hosts the biggest and oldest life science cluster in Finland.

Diagnostics industry is one of the fields where the Covid-19 pandemic has opened new opportunities. Over the past two decades Finland has enjoyed continuous rise in health technology exports; the value of export has increased five-fold while the net trade surplus has increased ten-fold.

“Last year only, Finnish in-vitro diagnostics industry’s export, including equipment and reagents, grew by 10% and reached 656 million euros. COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating this growth as several Life Science companies from Turku are reporting on successes in their fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus”, tells Tero Piispanen, senior executive of HealthTurku cluster at Turku Science Park Ltd., Finland.

Rapid point-of-care diagnostics

To mention a few, Abacus Diagnostica Ltd., ArcDia International Ltd. and Labmaster Ltd. have each developed a SARS-CoV-2 test kit. The tests are quick tests and add significantly to a much-needed testing capacity on the Finnish market and abroad.

GenomEra RUO SARS-CoV-2 test from Abacus Diagnostica Ltd just very recently received market approval from Finnish Health Regulatory authority FIMEA. The test is for rapid diagnostic use based on so-called PCR technology. Abacus Diagnostica is a molecular diagnostics company specialized in rapid molecular testing utilizing the patented GenomEra® -technology.

“We were able to develop the test within a short time frame, as it is a modified version of our CE IVD approved influenza test. The main difference to our influenza test lies in the gene sequences,” explains Erno Sundberg, the CEO of Abacus Diagnostica.

ArcDia’s mariPOC technology.

ArcDia International developed an automated COVID-19 point-of-care test for the mariPOC® platform, which is the market leader in automated testing of respiratory tract infections in Finland. The CE marked test conforms to the requirements of EU IVD directive and ISO 13485 quality standard. Because of its ease of use and short time to results, this platform is especially suitable for decentralized rapid testing of acute infections in primary care and emergency clinics. The test results are automatically collected in ArcDia’s mariCloudTM service, providing a comprehensive and real-time epidemiological picture for the use of authorities and health care professionals. Such data is crucial in the optimization of quarantine measures.

Labmaster developed a serological test for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) to be used in their current Labmaster LUCIA platform (LUCIA analyte cassette and LUCIA Analyzer). The test is waiting for CE-approval. Labmaster focuses on delivering innovative diagnostics tools for applications in routine clinical diagnostics and research.

Aqsense Health has developed a non-invasive method that enables different health disorders and diseases to be screened quickly, accurately and at low-cost. This enables effective, large-scale disease screening and could be applied for instance at airports to detect SARS-CoV-2 infections.

“Our testing method is much more reliable than measuring body temperature, which can be manipulated using antipyretics or cooling down with cold water”, points out Timo Teimonen, CEO of Aqsense Health. The company is in the negotiation phase with Chinese authorities as well as with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading, national public health institute of the United States.

Perkin Elmer Wallac Ltd, which is part of the Perkin Elmer global corporation, has significantly ramped up production of their COVID-19 test in Turku. With its world-wide distribution channels, this is not only excellent news for the fight against COVID-19, but also encouraging news for the Turku labor market.

Faron Pharmaseuticals taking part in WHO trial

Faron Pharmaceuticals Ltd has contributed to the fight against COVID-19 in the field of drug development. Faron’s drug Traumakine is taking part in WHO’s Solidarity trial investigating potential COVID-19 treatments. The company donated supplies of its investigational intravenous (IV) interferon (IFN) beta-1a for 2,000 patients. The global Solidarity trial is comparing four treatment options against standard of care, to assess their relative effectiveness against COVID-19 – remdesivir; lopinavir/ritonavir; lopinavir/ritonavir with IFN beta-1a; and chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. Over 90 countries are involved in the trial, which aims to rapidly discover whether any of the drugs slow disease progression or improve survival, using an adaptive trial design to enable the rapid worldwide comparison of multiple interventions simultaneously.

Separate from this Solidarity trial the Company has previously announced participation in the global REMAP-CAP trial (Randomized, Embedded, Multifactorial Adaptive Platform Trial for Community-Acquired Pneumonia) underway across more than 60 sites and 13 countries (announced on 01 April 2020).

Dr. Markku Jalkanen, Faron’s CEO, said: “We are pleased that the WHO has included IFN beta-1a on its list of priority drugs to be tested against COVID-19, especially the IV form of the drug, which is what we believe critically ill patients need.”

Unconventional and innovative methods in the fight against COVID-19

Probably the most unconventional product to fight COVID-19 was developed by a company from the Turku area that goes by the name VetroSpace. The so-called VetroHealth healthcare modules or pods are equipped with photon disinfection lighting and photocatalytic nano-coating, providing safe interiors without viruses or bacteria. The pods automatically and continuously destroy bacteria, harmful particles and viruses, also coronavirus.

“This innovative technology, which aroused widespread international interest, generates a powerful, error-free, antimicrobial effect that is deadly for up to 99,9% of microbes but still completely harmless to humans and materials as the light is not ionizing like UV light. This solution is used for example in hospitals as a quarantine or recovery room,” explains the CEO Jouko Urpolahti.

Toolset for the commercialization of biomarkers available during summer 2020

ArcDia International Ltd. and Abacus Diagnostica participated in the pilot phase of the Interreg BIC (Biomarker Commercialization) project, supporting development of the biomarker commercialization tool, which will be available for free for everyone on project’s website at the end of summer 2020.

The Biomarker Commercialization toolset supports the various phases of the commercialization process of new IVD (in vitro diagnostics) -applicable biomarkers, which assess the maturity level, emphasizing the industry and market expectations. For more information on biomarker commercialization visit project’s website: biomarker.nu