New RSV treatment could be a game changer, Dutch researcher says
After over 50 years of research, a simple treatment has been found against the human respiratory syncytial virus (RVS), a virus that causes crowded pediatric ICUs every winter. Instead of needing an antibody injection each month, this newly created antibody can protect newborn babies against RVS for a whole year. "That changes everything," professor and pediatric infectiologist Louis Bont of the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital, who was involved in the research, said to the Volkskrant.
RSV is the second leading cause of death in young children worldwide. In the Netherlands the virus sends around 2 thousand children to hospital each year, 150 to 200 of whom need intensive care. RSV can cause serious respiratory infections, resulting in some babies needing to be ventilated for long periods. One to two children in the Netherlands die from the virus every year. That number is much higher in developing countries.
There has been an antibody against RSV on the market for over 20 years, but this antibody only protects against the virus for around a month. That means that babies need a new injection every month, which is burdensome and expensive. For that reason, this treatment is only available to the small percentage of babies who are at high risk, for example premature babies or babies with comorbidities like heart problems.
This new antibody is much more powerful, with a half-life of 100 days. As a result, it can protect babies against RSV for months. The antibody was administered to nearly a thousand premature babies. In the winter that followed, hospital admissions in that group were nearly 80 percent lower than in the control group.
The antibody temporarily takes over the role of the immune system, Bont explained to the Volkskrant, protecting babies in their first vulnerable year. The method used to create this powerful antibody could also be used with other antibodies in the future, Bont expects, calling it a game changer.
The study is now being repeated in healthy children who were not born prematurely, to find out whether the antibody is effective in all children. Bont is hopeful about seeing the same good result. In a few years, all babies could be protected against RVS with just one shot, Bont expects.