Promising therapy for RSV virus developed by UGent scientists


A team of researchers from UGent and VIB has developed a promising new therapy for treating hospitalised patients with human respiratory syncytial virus

Vulnerable patients

Researchers connected to Ghent University (UGent) and the Flemish life sciences research institute VIB, in collaboration with the Geisel School of Medicine in the US, have developed a new antiviral strategy to fight human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV).

RSV, which causes respiratory tract infections, affects 34 million children under the age of five worldwide every year. RSV can result in serious illnesses in very young children and elderly people, leading to hospitalisation in about 2% of cases.

Some very high-risk groups are prescribed the antiviral drug ribavirin, but other than that, there is no antiviral therapy for RSV and or for hospitalised patients. Current methods of treatment rely almost exclusively on supportive care, like administering extra oxygen or anti-inflammatory drugs.

The team led by professor Xavier Saelens developed nanobodies – single-domain antibodies – that target the protein the virus needs to enter lung cells. The nanobodies neutralised the virus in in vitro tests and in mice, thus providing protection against RSV infection and related inflammation.

“As a therapy, nanobodies are especially useful because they are stable, soluble and can be administered rapidly and directly to the lung through inhalation,” said researcher Iebe Rossey in a statement. “Rapid treatment with these nanobodies could potentially eliminate or reduce RSV-related hospitalisation.”

The team has published its findings in the journal Nature Communications. They will next concentrate on transforming the nanobodies into a format that can be used in clinical tests.

Photo courtesy Fralmax