"My dream is that no Swedes become allergic, and that is absolutely possible"

”Min dröm är att inga svenskar blir allergiker, och det är absolut möjligt”

New studies, blood tests that measure which allergens you are allergic to, more fur allergens to test and a vaccine against fur allergy. Research group leader and associate professor Hans Grönlund tells more about what is currently going on in Medi-Tec's allergy research.

Hans Grönlund is both a research group leader at Karolinska Institutet and one of Medi-Tec's founders, together with author Liza Marklund. Right now it is vacation time at the lab, but several different research projects are still current.

A special balm is being produced (as a complement to Medi-Tec's special shampoo ) and studies where the effectiveness of the shampoo can be tested are planned (among other things by measuring the lung function of dog allergy sufferers before and after the dog is washed). In parallel, funding is also being sought for cures for dog, cat and horse allergies, and a test of the human allergy profile is being developed. Soon, more allergens (allergenic substances) on the dog can also be investigated.

During the summer, Medi-Tec's research team, which is a world leader in research into fur allergy and fur allergens, is working on being able to measure the allergens Can f 4 and 6 in the dog. It is already possible to test the first three of the dog's six allergens (Can f 5 is found in the urine of non-castrated male dogs and a test of that allergen can therefore be seen as less important in this context) with the allergen test developed by Medi-Tec. And soon it will be possible to find out how much the dog has of two other allergens, two allergens that researchers have never looked at more closely before.
- It will be most interesting to see if the Can f 4 and 6 levels vary, as 1, 2 and 3 vary. The relationships between the different allergens are particularly interesting, says Hans.

When the blood test that shows the person's allergy profile is produced, it becomes possible for an allergist to be matched against the dog's unique allergen profile and thus find the dog that excretes the least of the specific allergens to which it reacts most strongly.

Hans has worked at Karolinska Institutet for 15 years and has worked with allergy for about 30 years. The fact that the choice fell precisely on the allergy issue has to do with the fact that the problem is so widespread in our society, and thus there is the opportunity to assist many people with the help of research. If you don't suffer from an allergy yourself, you probably have someone close to you who is affected, and it is the fur allergy that affects the most, says Hans.
- I myself am allergic to pollen, but that allergy is seasonal. The fur allergy, on the other hand, is there all year round and is a social problem because the animals have become part of our families, he says.

As an employee at the Karolinska Institutet, whose research is financed by grants and tax money, Hans sees it as having 1.5 million employers, i.e. all fur allergy sufferers in Sweden. Or perhaps even almost all Swedes who are either themselves affected, or have allergy sufferers in their vicinity.
- It is rewarding to see it that way. I want to help all allergy sufferers to a better life, with the goal of creating a completely allergy-free society. And everything that we can reach out with, for example Medi-Tec's special shampoo , is part of that strategy.

His work and commitment mean that many contact him to ask for help and also to tell them about their life situation. He receives a large amount of emails, and they can basically be divided into four different categories, he says.

On the one hand, it is allergy sufferers who want fur animals, often families. In part, it is about those who become limited in their lives and experience difficulties in society. They can't sit on the bus, go to the pub, etc. because of their allergy. There are also those who experience the impact of allergies on a relationship. Maybe the love of their life has a pet and is forced to choose between you and a beloved furry family member. The fourth category deals with allergy in healthcare. There are plenty of examples here, but it could be vets who have developed an allergy and get in touch to tell about how it has become impossible for them to continue their profession.

Allergy sufferers – a forgotten group

One of the things that the allergists who contact Hans are pinning their hopes on is the vaccine that Medi-Tec is working on developing. The new type of immunotherapy, which can cure dog and cat allergies with a few simple injections (in contrast to conventional immunotherapy which involves 50–80 injections over 5–8 years), is already ready and developed, and work is also being done to be able to cure horse allergies . But money is needed to be able to do a clinical preliminary study. SEK 40 million more precisely. It may sound like a lot, but Hans points out that it can be compared with, for example, the 14.5 billions kronor which was the original budget for the construction of Nya Karolinska (which will probably be even more expensive to build).
- You get depressed when you realize how little funding there is to apply for the biggest chronic disease in Sweden. There is tremendous commitment from those who contact me, and they have such heartbreaking stories. Therefore, it is sad when I am forced to answer them that unfortunately you are a forgotten group, and there is a lack of funds.

If you were to get the 40 million you need, how long would it take for the vaccine to be available for allergy sufferers?
- From the time the money came in, it would take two years until we could give the first injection to a human, but then as part of a study. The four injections in the treatment would be given for a total of six months, first three injections for two months and then one more after four months to ensure the effect. Then one would evaluate and streamline and then a few more phases would follow over a few years to get the medicine to the patient.

Could it happen that the studies and tests give negative results?
- It is my firm belief that the vaccine works, but it is appropriate to point out that no guarantees can be given. All tests are done to meet authority requirements for safety and effectiveness.

Yes, Hans should know, after all, he has been involved in developing a vaccine against cat allergy before. The vaccine, which was completed and tested on humans, was based on one of his patents from 2002. Hans then sold the vaccine to a company in the hope that the treatment could be passed on to patients. However, it didn't really turn out that way. Unfortunately, the company did not manage to find co-funders (the pharmaceutical industry today makes a lot of money from anti-allergic drugs, so a vaccine is not very profitable from an economic point of view) and the product never came to market. But this time Hans and his colleagues want to do the right thing from start to finish so that the vaccine reaches those who need it.
- On the one hand, the public interest is greater, biomedicine in general has received a boost, and on the other hand, we have produced all known dog allergens using biotechnology, says Hans.

"Unfortunately, there are no incentives for the individual researcher to reach out to society with their research and actually make a difference. In the academic world, producing information is valued more than producing actual benefits"

Unfortunately, risks like these are not uncommon because the gap between research and finished products on the market is large. Way too big, according to Hans. He himself has experience on both sides, as he has worked both within companies, as department manager at Pharmacia, and now on the government side, at Karolinska Institutet. That everything works out as long as you do research is a myth, he says, and points out that you also have to know what to do with the research.
- My dream is that the Swedish people become a non-allergic people and that is absolutely possible. But unfortunately there are no incentives for the individual researcher to reach out to society with their research and actually make a difference. In the academic world, producing information is valued more than producing actual goods. That is what is good about Medi-Tec, that the company acts as an extended arm of research and thus reaches out to society. But more debate is needed around this, about what the tax money and research funds actually lead to.

What do you hope for in the future?
- Of course I hope for funding for the vaccine. With the money, we can also secure, continue research and make the vaccine more efficient. Then I would like to see us do more research into horse allergy, which is still a rather unexplored area. And so I hope that Medi-Tec continues to be what I had as a vision: an efficient company that exists for the Swedish people.