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Institute for Research in Biomedicine
Istituto di Ricerca in Biomedicina

Via Vincenzo Vela 6 - CH-6500 Bellinzona
Tel. +41 91 820 0300 - Fax +41 91 820 0302 - info [at] irb [dot] usi [dot] ch

Discovery of a new vaccine against RSV virus in the cattle, with possible implications for the development of such a vaccine in humans

on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID, USA), together with the Pirbright Institute (UK) and Humabs BioMed SA, a Swiss company active in the discovery and development of monoclonal antibodies for therapeutic purposes, have developed a new vaccine that protects calves from the respiratory syncytial bovine virus (RSV). In calves, this virus is associated with severe respiratory disease and high mortality, for an annual cost estimated at over one billion dollars. There are vaccines on the market for cattle, but they are not very effective. This new vaccine, based on a stabilized genetically engineered protein, is able to induce complete protection.

The bovine virus is closely related to the human RSV virus. In humans, RSV can cause serious bronchiolitis and pneumonia in young children as well as in the elderly and in people with compromised immune systems. RSV infections are estimated to cause more than 250,000 human deaths annually around the world. To date there is no vaccine on the market to prevent RSV infection in humans.

For director of the IRB, Antonio Lanzavecchia, "this study, result of an international collaboration, shows how new vaccines produced by genetic engineering are superior to the traditional vaccines and are able to offer a complete protection. This vaccine, which was developed and tested in record time, may solve a longstanding problem in cattle and open new ways for the production of a similar vaccine for humans."

The figure illustrates a section of multinucleated "syncytia" that are formed by the fusion of multiple adjacent cells induced by RSV infection (membranes and nuclei are shown in red and blue, respectively).


B Zhang et al. Protection of calves by a prefusion-stabilized bovine RSV F vaccine. npj Vaccines DOI: 10.1038/s41541-017-0005-9 (2017).