Forests contain compounds that destroy viruses – new products to combat the coronavirus are in the works

22.1.2021 / Article

Cosmetic and hygiene products based on natural compounds can soon assist us in combating not just the current SARS CoV-2 pandemic, but also future pandemics.

’We have discovered molecules in forest nature that destroy disease-causing viruses effectively and safely,’ says Professor Varpu Marjomäki from the University of Jyväskylä.

Due to the current pandemic, the fight against viruses is a hotter topic than ever, though the idea of searching forest nature for antiviral compounds was born all of eight years ago. Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä and Natural Resources Institute Finland discovered naturally-occurring compounds with a high capability to combat viral infections.

The researchers have shown these compounds to be effective against the SARS CoV-2 virus, the cause of the current pandemic, and enteroviruses, which are highly contagious and among the most common viruses causing infections in humans.

’We’ve really been keen to create cooperation between disciplines. By now the cooperation has led to an invention and a patent application,’ says Project Manager Riikka Linnakoski from Natural Resources Institute Finland, who specialises in forest health and biodiversity.

’We’ve started a project to prepare the commercialisation, which means that we continue testing the natural compounds and their application potential and taking them closer to viable business activity,’ says Linnakoski.

Sidestreams of forest industry as raw material

In the Natural Antivirals project run by Natural Resources Institute Finland and the University of Jyväskylä, the natural compounds discovered are developed into cosmetics and hygiene products to combat both the current coronavirus pandemic and future pandemics.

Riikka Linnakoski
‘For so far there are no cosmetics with antiviral effect on the market,’ says Senior Scientist Riikka Linnakoski.

The work is based on sidestreams from the forest industry. The compounds are found in boreal forests.

Careful attention to hand hygiene is important in preventing the spread of both the coronavirus and the enteroviruses, and the invention can be used in hand and other disinfectants, for example.

’To reduce the virus burden, products used on the face and hands are especially interesting, for so far there are no cosmetics with antiviral effect on the market,’ says Linnakoski.

Antiviral, non-alcoholic cosmetics

Using the words Natural antivirals cosmetics in a browser search gives a long list of hits. Covid-19 has made consumers more interested in all things natural. A green wave is predicted for the cosmetics industries, and the demand for traditional medicinal herbs such as aloe vera and eucalyptus has grown throughout the world.

While ’close to nature’ and ’non-harmful’ are features very much looked for in both cosmetics and cleaning agents, the Finnish researchers say there is an absence on the market of safe product based on natural raw materials and meant for the repeated cleaning of hands or surfaces, or similar cosmetics with antiviral effect.

By ’safe’ they mean that the product is not harmful for its user. Many products on the market largely consist of synthetic chemicals and are often alcohol-based, and may irritate the skin especially in long-term use.

’Also, alcoholic products are ineffective against some viruses, such as the non-enveloped enteroviruses. Synthetic chemicals can also be harmful to nature, as they increase the chemical burden on the environment,’ says Linnakoski.

Early this year, the project received a Research to Business grant of EUR 600,000 from Business Finland. The aim of the two-year project is, in addition to product development, to create commercial products. The invention will be further elaborated to the extent that it can be transferred to a start-up or an existing business.

 

Anna Kauppi

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