A preventive vaccine for Type 1 Diabetes to be studied in humans for the first time

Submitted on Tue, 07/18/2017 - 16:06
Haimakudoksen soluja
The structures of an enterovirus are visible in pancreatic tissue (in brown). The virus is located in the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas that are destroyed in Type 1 Diabetes. Image: Jutta Laiho and Maarit Oikarinen.

A research group at the University of Tampere led by Heikki Hyöty, Professor of Virology, has long pioneered in developing a vaccine that could prevent Type 1 Diabetes. The research group has been able to identify the enteroviruses belonging to the group B coxsackieviruses that are related to diabetes. A prototype vaccine has been developed to prevent these viruses.

“Already now it is known that the vaccine is effective and safe on mice. The developing process has now taken a significant leap forward as the next phase is to study the vaccine in humans,” says Professor Hyöty.

In the first clinical phase, the vaccine will be studied in a small group of adults to ensure the safety of the vaccine. In the second phase, the vaccine will be studied in children and the aim is to investigate both the safety of the vaccine and its effectiveness against enteroviruses. In the third phase, the aim is to investigate whether the vaccine could be used to prevent the onset of Type 1 Diabetes. However, it can take about eight years in order to certainly know whether the vaccine prevents Type 1 Diabetes.


“The aim is to develop a vaccine that could prevent a significant number of Type 1 Diabetes cases. Additionally, the vaccine would protect from infections caused by enteroviruses such as the common cold, myocarditis, meningitis and ear infections. However, in light of current research, the vaccine could not be used to cure existing diabetes,” explains Hyöty.

Type 1 Diabetes is caused by the destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and is treated with daily insulin injections. Type 1 Diabetes is becoming more common and cases of it occur in Finland more than elsewhere in the world. It places a significant burden on public health care and causes comorbidities that reduce the quality of life and the average life expectancy. It has been estimated that a patient with Type 1 Diabetes will cause society expenses worth EUR 1 million on average during their lifetime.


The connection between viral infections and Type 1 Diabetes has been researched for over 25 years at the Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences at the University of Tampere. The results indicate that one virus group, enteroviruses, play a part in developing Type 1 Diabetes. They can infect the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and damage them permanently.

The research phase beginning now is the result of a long period of negotiations between several stakeholders interested in the matter. The research project will be funded by the US-based company Provention Bio. Other partners include the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which is the largest foundation funding research on Type 1 Diabetes in the world, and the Finnish company Vactech Oy, which has developed the required vaccine technology. Professor Heikki Hyöty (University of Tampere) and Professor Mikael Knip (University of Helsinki) were co-founders in Vactech Oy and thus steered academic research towards developing a preventive vaccine.

The developing process for the diabetes vaccine has included several different partners. Finnish research has played a key role and, among others, the Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention study (DIPP) has significantly advanced the research on the connection between viruses and diabetes. Additionally, the collaboration with associate professor Vesa Hytönen and other Tampere-based professionals in developing vaccines has been crucial. Other noteworthy partners include the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, several universities and research institutes in Finland and abroad as well as Vactech Oy. The research has been funded by several different groups, such as the Academy of Finland, TEKES, the Sigrid Juselius Foundation, the Reino Lahtikari Foundation, the Diabetes Research Foundation, the European Union and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). 


For further information, please contact:
Professor of Virology Heikki Hyöty, tel. +358 50 516 8480, heikki.hyoty@uta.fi
University of Tampere, Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences