Research Group Experimental Virology

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) Research

According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), around 58 million people are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). As a result of the chronic infection, many patients develop inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), which can damage the function of the organ and lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Fortunately, chronic hepatitis C is now very treatable with combination therapy. However, major challenges remain: The vast majority of HCV-infected individuals are undiagnosed and remain undetected due to the usually slow progression of the disease. In addition, a drug cure does not protect against re-infection with HCV. Up to 1.5 million people become newly infected with the virus every year. Therefore, developing a prophylactic vaccine to limit viral transmission and ensure treatment success remains crucial.

We investigate the principles responsible for immune protection against HCV, concentrating primarily on antibody-mediated mechanisms. We examine the strategies used by viruses to evade the immune response and develop cell culture and animal models to test the efficacy of vaccine candidates. These systems are used to source proprietary vaccine candidates for clinical development. 

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) research 

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), like HCV, has a worldwide distribution. In healthy adults, an RSV infection usually presents as a mild cold. However, RSV can also cause severe lower respiratory tract infections. Young children and immunocompromised patients, such as transplant recipients, are particularly at risk. Worldwide, RSV causes 33.4 million cases of acute lower respiratory tract infections in young children alone and between 53,000 and 199,000 associated deaths per year. Why some children develop particularly severe courses of disease is not well understood. Currently, only a few treatment options are available. Recently a vaccine was approved for individuals aged 60 and older for the prevention of lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV.

Our research focuses on the principles responsible for severe RSV infections in young children in order to develop long-term diagnostic methods to better protect these particularly susceptible children. In addition, we investigate direct antiviral inhibitors against RSV. 

Pandemic Preparedness

Up until mid-2023, the pandemic COVID-19 agent, SARS-CoV-2, had killed almost 7 million people worldwide. Though several vaccines are available, only a few treatment options for treating SARS-CoV-2 infections are available. In light of pandemic preparedness, we anticipate other coronaviruses will transmit to humans in the future. Therefore, we are developing direct antiviral molecules that are effective against a plethora of various coronaviruses.