Ravi Ojha is the Young Virologist of the Year 2024

The Foundation for Research on Viral Diseases announced the recipient of the Young Virologist of the Year award at the Virology Days in Helsinki on March 22, 2024. The awardee, MSc Ravi Ojha, will defend his doctoral thesis next month. As a researcher he is merited in studies discovering how SARS-CoV-2 virus penetrates its host cell and how these mechanisms can be prevented with new drug candidates. These discoveries have attracted a lot of attention also internationally.

Ravi Ojha’s contribution was crucial to a multinational collaborative project in which research groups from Finland, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, showed that SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, uses two different receptors on the cell surface for entry into a cell. Ojha and coworkers discovered that SARS-CoV-2 uses as a second receptor protein called neuropilin-1. The observation explains the greater infectivity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus compared to the previous SARS virus, which does not use this entry pathway. The study was led by virologist Giuseppe Balistreri from the University of Helsinki and neuroscientist Mika Simons from the Technical University of Munich. The results were published in the highly esteemed journal Science1.

This pioneering observation and the meritorious follow-up studies of Ojha and his coworkers on the entry of viruses into the cell guided Ravi Ojha’s research to developing new antiviral drug candidates that can be administered intranasally. These drugs have already proved to be effective in animal experiments in which they have protected mice from SARS-CoV-2 lung infection. The antiviral mechanisms described so far show that the drug not only directly targets the virus but also indirectly their target cells. These drugs can be assumed to have antiviral effect on many different viruses. The preliminary results of these drug studies have already been published in highly ranked scientific journals4-10 and one of the drugs is currently being evaluated by the US Patent Office.

Ravi Ojha’s and coworkers’ research gives hope that in the face of the next pandemic by a new emerging virus, there will also be drugs suitable for the prevention and treatment of such infection. After having defended his thesis Ravi Ojha will continue his work at Meilahti campus in the Department of Virology at the University of Helsinki, aiming to develop antiviral drugs that would be easily accessible, effective, affordable, and quickly available to be used when the next virus causing a significant health threat spreads around the world.

Contact information

Hannamari Välimaa, the Foundation for Research on Viral Diseases


Ravi Ojha, Department of Virology, Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki



1            Cantuti-Castelvetri, L. et al. Neuropilin-1 facilitates SARS-CoV-2 cell entry and infectivity. Science 370, 856-860 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abd2985

2            Ojha, R. et al. Alternative cell entry mechanisms for SARS-CoV-2 and multiple animal viruses. bioRxiv, 2023.2007.2002.547368 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.07.02.547368

3            Kreutzberger, A. J. B. et al. SARS-CoV-2 requires acidic pH to infect cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 119, e2209514119 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2209514119

4            Kettunen, P. et al. SARS-CoV-2 Infection of Human Neurons Is TMPRSS2 Independent, Requires Endosomal Cell Entry, and Can Be Blocked by Inhibitors of Host Phosphoinositol-5 Kinase. J Virol 97, e0014423 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1128/jvi.00144-23

5            Serra, A. et al. Computationally prioritized drugs inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection and syncytia formation. Brief Bioinform 23 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1093/bib/bbab507

6            Kreutzberger, A. J. B. et al. Synergistic Block of SARS-CoV-2 Infection by Combined Drug Inhibition of the Host Entry Factors PIKfyve Kinase and TMPRSS2 Protease. J Virol 95, e0097521 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1128/JVI.00975-21

7            Yang, K. et al. Nanomolar inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 infection by an unmodified peptide targeting the prehairpin intermediate of the spike protein. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 119, e2210990119 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2210990119

8            Kant, R. et al. Complete Protection from SARS-CoV-2 Lung Infection in Mice Through Combined Intranasal Delivery of PIKfyve Kinase and TMPRSS2 Protease Inhibitors. bioRxiv (2023). https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.07.19.549731

9            Saber, S. H. et al. The infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 progeny virions requires the activity of host cell N-myristoyltransferases and it is severely compromised by their inhibition. bioRxiv, 2023.2003.2003.530798 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.03.03.530798

10          Laajala, M. et al. Vemurafenib Inhibits Acute and Chronic Enterovirus Infection by Affecting Cellular Kinase Phosphatidylinositol 4-Kinase Type IIIbeta. Microbiol Spectr 11, e0055223 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1128/spectrum.00552-23