Morten Agertoug Nielsen

Morten Agertoug Nielsen © European Union, 2020

Meet Morten Agertoug Nielsen, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen. Together with Danish, Dutch, and German partners, he’s working to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus as part of EU-funded project Prevent-nCoV.

Scientists working at the MycoSynVac project

Scientists working at the MycoSynVac project © CRG, 2020

Their vaccine uses harmless particles that look like the coronavirus to the body’s immune system, increasing the chance of generating a strong immune response quickly, followed by long-lasting and effective protection. The goal is to complete the initial clinical testing of the vaccine on humans within 12 months to prove its safety and efficacy.

"Without cross-border collaboration, this project would not work. We’re stronger together, all united against coronavirus."


iBET team

iBET team © IBET, 2020

Manuel Carrondo and his team at the Institute of Experimental Biology and Technology (iBET) in Portugal are working on the EU-funded DiViNe project. Together, 6 expert partners from 5 different EU countries are exploring ways to simplify the purification process during vaccine development, limit waste and reduce costs. This will help make more doses of the new vaccine available more cheaply, once it has been cleared for use.

"In the vaccine industry, the process of purification is complex. Any contaminant must be removed via multiple steps, which account for up to 80% of total production costs."


Luis Serrano

© CRG 2020

This is Luis Serrano. He coordinates the MycoSynVac project at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, Spain. Together with a team of experts, he’s been receiving EU support to study a genus of bacteria called mycoplasma.

Scientists working for the MycoSynVac project

Scientists working for the MycoSynVac project © CRG, 2020

Now they are working on a vaccine against a broad range of respiratory diseases. The project’s cutting-edge technology is being used to grow synthetic bacteria and combine them with proteins from viruses. This can create vaccines that train our immune system to produce antibodies.

"It is our hope that by using coronavirus proteins as antigens, this research could eventually lead to a vaccine to tackle COVID-19."

Similarly in Valencia, Diego Orzaez has been working on the Newcotiana project, coordinated by the Spanish National Research Council and funded by the EU. The project works with international experts to modify tobacco plants so that they can be used as biofactories for vaccines and antibodies.

Diego Orzaez

Diego Orzaez © UPV, 2019

This technique could eventually pave the way to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, as it has done in the fight against Ebola and influenza virus. The researchers have made the plant’s new genome sequence publicly available to help produce vaccines and other medicines in the fight against current and future pandemics.

"Faced with the crisis of COVID-19, we immediately decided to share our findings with other researchers, as well as companies that develop COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostics."


Matti Sällberg

Matti Sällberg © European Union, 2020

Meet Matti Sällberg. He’s the head of the Department of Laboratory Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. He and his team are leading the EU-funded OPENCORONA consortium, which is part of the collective effort to identify a vaccine against COVID-19 and develop a novel DNA therapy that protects against infection, together with experts in Germany and Italy.

"If successful in clinical trials, the vaccine will help patients generate a viral antigen to which the immune system reacts and builds up immunity. The need to find an effective vaccine is urgent and we are working as quickly as possible to find one."

Looking to the Future

We need the vaccine urgently to save lives, stop the pandemic, prevent its resurgence, and ultimately to allow us to return to a normal life. The European Commission launched its Coronavirus Vaccine Strategy with the aim of cutting down the time needed to find a safe, effective and affordable vaccine. The Commission has signed six advance agreements with vaccine producers that will allow the purchase of a vaccine once it is on the market. It has made over €2 billion available to ensure we have sufficient production capacity in the EU. With all these actions added to the global pledging efforts, the Union’s long track-record of funding cutting-edge science and its ability to bring together leading scientists and innovators in the field, the EU is at the forefront of international efforts to produce a vaccine.