18 December 2023

New initiative puts Danish vaccine science on the global map

Research Centre

The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen and the Novo Nordisk Foundation are joining forces on a new research initiative within vaccines and immunity. The goal is to develop new vaccine candidates for the fight against infectious diseases in the airways.

"One of our main tasks is to put science into play for the benefit of society," says Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Bente Stallknecht about the new initiative. Photo: Povl Thomsen/University of Copenhagen.

Vaccination is one of the most effective tools available when it comes to fighting infectious diseases. Vaccines save millions of lives every year. However, despite recent years’ focus on vaccines and major advances in vaccine technology, there is a need for new and more effective vaccines. 

A new initiative, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Initiative for Vaccines and Immunity (NIVI), now provides even better opportunities for research to benefit society. As part of NIVI, a new research center is established at the University of Copenhagen, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Vaccines and Immunity (NCVI).

“We are proud that as a faculty and university, we are involved in establishing new types of initiatives like NIVI, specifically designed to advance translational research aimed at ensuring the transition from basic research to application. One of our main tasks is to put science into play for the benefit of society, and NIVI enables us to do just that, as it strengthens the connection between the leading vaccine and immunity research and commercial vaccine development,” says Dean Bente M. Stallknecht from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. She emphasizes that the important work of designing NIVI would not have happened without Professor Thor Theander from the Department of Immunology and Microbiology (ISIM) and a strong collaboration between core personnel at the faculty, Statens Serum Institut, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The aim of NIVI is to develop new and improved vaccine candidates especially against airborne infections. Many such airborne diseases have the potential to cause serious and even fatal infections. And as these diseases are infectious, they can lead to epidemics and pandemics, which is what happened with COVID-19.

New technology will limit the spread of respiratory infections

Research at NCVI will focus on four areas: respiratory pathogens, airway immunity, vaccine platforms, and airway delivery, where vaccines are administered directly into the respiratory tract, e.g., with a nasal spray.

The research centre will be anchored at ISIM and will strengthen the department’s expertise within immunity, microbiology, and vaccine development.

“If we want to improve our ability to prevent and treat respiratory infections, we need to generate more knowledge on airway immunity. This is made possible by the new initiative, and I am very proud to welcome a new, ambitious research center to ISIM. ISIM already houses international experts in immunology and microbiology, and we have extensive experience in collaborating with hospitals, other research institutions and industry, which will be very beneficial for this new initiative,” says Head of Department at ISIM Charlotte Menné Bonefeld.

Statens Serum Institut will be a key partner for NIVI. Statens Serum Institut is internationally recognized for its research within tuberculosis and expertise within vaccine development, which will be vital to the success of the initiative.

Through basic and translational research, the researchers at NIVI will strive to generate new knowledge that will help us to a better understanding of vaccines and immunity. They will harness this knowledge and develop new vaccine candidates that have the potential to provide long-term, effective protection against respiratory pathogens.

Unique opportunity to develop new vaccine candidates

NCVI, which will be responsible for research and education within the initiative, will together with the other part of NIVI – a company owned by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Vaccine Accelerator (NVAC) – ensure a faster development of vaccine candidates which may lead to more efficient vaccines. NVAC will strengthen the translation of the centre’s research results into phase 1 and 2 clinical studies, thus bridging the gap between basic science and clinical application.

“The development of the COVID-19 vaccines demonstrated the extraordinary possibilities when interdisciplinary vaccine research and development are prioritised. With NIVI, the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the University of Copenhagen are building on that momentum and helping ensure that Denmark is at the forefront of translational vaccine science globally. With its long history in immunological and vaccine research and advanced technology, the university is the ideal partner for this initiative,” says CEO of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen.

Any revenue generated by NVAC will be reinvested in NIVI and thereby contribute to even more research in and knowledge about vaccines and immunity.


Journalist and Press Consultant Sascha Kael Rasmussen
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