An international expert group, including University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht, have received € 29 million to investigate serious lung infections caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This infection in particular affect babies and elderly people, and recently pediatric intensive care units all over the Netherlands were working at maximum capacity because of the annual RSV epidemic.

Led by Professor Harish Nair at the University of Edinburgh, the RSV Consortium in Europe (RESCEU) – aims to make a fundamental difference to the understanding and management of RSV. International teams will work to assess the full scale of the problem in Europe, which is currently unknown. Investigators from 18 universities, public health institutes and pharmaceutical companies will gather robust statistics on the number of RSV cases across Europe each year. Researchers will also assess the economic impact of the disease and the burden it places on healthcare systems.

Armed with this information, the group will put together best practice guidelines to improve the way RSV-associated disease is monitored across Europe and to advise future vaccination programs. The consortium aims to ensure that future decisions on RSV prevention and treatment policies can be based on good evidence and made without undue delay. The group also aims to set up a framework to conduct Europe-wide trials of new medicines and vaccines to improve treatment – and even prevention – of the disease.

Contribution UMC Utrecht

From the € 29 million overall budget, € 2,5 million has been allocated  to UMC Utrecht. Under supervision of child infectiologist prof. dr. Louis Bont, three international epidemiological studies will be executed on burden of disease in baby’s (with follow-up of 10,000 baby’s with RSV-infection), as well as in elderly people (1000 patients) and patients with lung emphysema (500 patient).

Louis Bont: “We are at an opportune time to step up efforts to prevent RSV infection in children and elderly populations. With more than 60 candidate vaccines in clinical development, it is likely that an RSV vaccine will be available in the next five to seven years. Moreover, a range of treatments for RSV are also being developed. Our findings will provide better evidence to understand how these interventions should be best introduced, not only in Europe but also the rest of the world.”

Breathing difficulties and wheezing

RSV infection causes breathing difficulties and wheezing and can lead to severe respiratory illnesses such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Diseases caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are estimated to affect more than 30 million children under five each year throughout the world. The virus also affects older people and those with weakened immune systems, including cancer patients and people with chronic lung diseases such as emphysema. There are no specific treatments for RSV and there is no vaccine. Current therapies are focused on alleviating the symptoms of the infection.