Research Group Experimental Virology

According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), around 71 million people are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus. As a result of the chronic infection, many patients develop an inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), which can damage the function of the organ and lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis as well as liver cancer. Fortunately, chronic hepatitis C is now very treatable with combination therapy nevertheless, 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, it is important to develop a prophylactic vaccine to limit viral transmission and ensure treatment success.

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

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), like HCV, has a worldwide distribution. In healthy adults, RSV infection usually presents as a mild cold. However, RSV can also cause serious 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 infection is not well understood. Currently, few treatment options are available and there is no approved preventive vaccine.

We are investigating 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 are investigating direct antiviral inhibitors against RSV. 
WHO estimates that by mid-2021, the pandemic COVID-19 agent, SARS-CoV-2, will have killed 4,000,000 people worldwide. Several types of vaccines are already available, but there are still few therapeutic options for treating SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, we must expect that other coronaviruses will be transmitted to humans in the future and cause epidemics or pandemics.
We are therefore developing direct antiviral molecules that are effective against different coronaviruses.