Every year, 150 to 200 babies with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) end up in the ICU in the Netherlands. Worldwide, the RS virus is the second leading cause of death in infants. Researchers at Amsterdam UMC discovered an antibody that protects against this life-threatening virus for newborns. Last month, the European Commission/EMA issued a positive advice for this antibody drug, called Nirsevimab.
RSV is a common cold virus, common complaints are nose cold and coughing. It is the most common cause of inflammation of the small airways in the lungs (bronchiolitis) and pneumonia. RSV forms no serious risk to healthy adults, but is a health risk for (premature) newborns, infants, and children with a congenital heart defect or Down’s syndrome. RSV is spread when an infant comes in contact with fluid from the nose or mouth of an infected person.
The developed antibody is based on research from Amsterdam UMC, location AMC. In 2005, immunologist and professor Cell Biology Hergen Spits and his Amsterdam UMC research group discovered a method to make B-cells immortal and to grow them perpetually in the lab. B-cells recognize viruses and other pathogens entering the body and respond with the production of antibodies that help neutralize such pathogens.
This technology was used by the AMC spin off AIMM to develop an antibody to protect against the RS virus. They isolated the DNA that encodes an RSV-specific antibody from B-cells of patients who recovered from RSV infections. This DNA was subsequently introduced in an efficient production cell line to be able to generated large quantities of the RSV antibody.
AMC spin-off AIMM Therapeutics was founded in 2004 with the help of IXA. The business case of AIMM is based on a technology that allows the isolation of B cells from patients that produce well-neutralizing antibodies. This technology was devised by AMC researchers Hergen Spits, Sean Diehl and Ferenc Scheeren along with AIMM collaborator Tim Beaumont and captured in a patent that has been licensed to AIMM by IXA.
Using this basic technology, a promising RSV antibody was isolated in 2007 and licensed to MedImmune/Astra Zeneca. This pharmaceutical company has further optimized this antibody and completed the required clinical steps, which ultimately resulted in the approval of Nirsevimab (Beyfortus) by the EMA at the end of 2022.
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