Xavier Saelens Lab

Research focus

Human influenza is a contagious disease caused by influenza A or B viruses. Influenza is characterized by high morbidity and considerable mortality especially among the elderly and certain risk groups. Influenza A viruses circulate in several animal species and create problems, in terms of animal welfare, but also serve as a reservoir of new genes for human influenza A viruses. Influenza is a vaccine-preventable disease and a few small molecule antiviral drugs are available.

One focus of our research is on the extracellular domain of the conserved M2-protein (M2e), for the development of a cross-protective human influenza A vaccine. We demonstrated that recombinant, M2e-fusion proteins can be used as a universal vaccine against Influenza A. This vaccine also successfully passed a phase I clinical trial. We are elucidating the immune mechanism of action of the M2e-vaccine. We are also pursuing a new approach to develop a cross-protective vaccine against influenza B virus and are developing novel antibody-based therapeutics against influenza viruses.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most important cause of acute lower respiratory tract infection in very young children. Disease caused by RSV is very contagious and almost everyone is infected with RSV by the age of two years. Infections also reoccur throughout life. In the very young (from birth until the age of two years), the virus can cause severe respiratory tract disease characterized by bronchiolitis (inflammation of the bronchioles), pneumonia, and apnea (temporary cessation of breathing). One percent of RSV-infected children below the age of six months require hospitalization. There is no vaccine and only one specific antiviral drug against RSV and supportive treatment is the only medical option for RSV-infected patients. Therefore, our group is developing novel vaccines and therapeutic agents for RSV infection. We have developed an RSV vaccine candidate based on the extracellular domain of the Small Hydrophobic protein of the virus. In collaboration with a private partner, this vaccine has now entered phase I clinical evaluation.

For influenza and RSV we also explore the use of novel antibody-based therapeutics.


Treatment with mRNA coding for the necroptosis mediator MLKL induces antitumor immunity directed against neo-epitopesVan Hoecke Lien Van Lint Sandra Roose Kenny Van Parys Alexander Vandenabeele Peter Grooten J Tavernier Jan De Koker Stefaan Saelens XavierNature Communications, 9, 3417, 2018
Potent single-domain antibodies that arrest respiratory syncytial virus fusion protein in its prefusion stateRossey I* Gilman M* Kabeche S Sedeyn K Wrapp D Kanekiyo M Chen M Mas V Spitaels J Melero J Graham B Schepens B* Mclellan J* Saelens X*Nature Communications, 8, 14158, 2017* or °: authors contributed equally
Hierarchical and Redundant Roles of Activating FcgammaRs in Protection against Influenza Disease by M2e-Specific IgG1 and IgG2a AntibodiesVan den Hoecke Silvie Ehrhardt K Kolpe Annasaheb El Bakkouri K Deng Lei Grootaert Hendrik Schoonooghe Steve Smet Anouk Bentahir M Roose Kenny Schotsaert Michael Schepens Bert Callewaert Nico Nimmerjahn F Staeheli P Hengel H Saelens XavierJOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, 91, e02500-16, 2017
GM-CSF treatment prevents respiratory syncytial virus-induced pulmonary exacerbation responses in postallergic mice by stimulating alveolar macrophage maturationNaessens T Schepens Bert Smet M Pollard C Van Hoecke Lien De Beuckelaer A Willart Monique Lambrecht Bart De Koker Stefaan Saelens Xavier Grooten JJOURNAL OF ALLERGY AND CLINICAL IMMUNOLOGY, 137, 700-709 e9, 2016
Functional Comparison of Mx1 from Two Different Mouse Species Reveals the Involvement of Loop L4 in the Antiviral Activity against Influenza A VirusesVerhelst Judith Spitaels Jan Nurnberger C De Vlieger Dorien Ysenbaert Tine Staeheli P Fiers Walter Saelens XavierJOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, 89, 10879-90, 2015

Job openings


Towards antibodies against COVID-19

05/05/2020 - ​The lab of Xavier Saelens (VIB-UGent) announces the isolation and characterization of a unique antibody that can bind to the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2). The antibody was described in collaboration with research groups in the US.

VIB achieves important milestone in the development of a COVID-19 drug

16/03/2020 - The team of Xavier Saelens (VIB-UGent) has now established that the antibody can neutralize a lab variant of the virus, an important step forward in the development of a potential antiviral drug against the new coronavirus.

New immunotherapy inhibits tumor growth and protects against metastases

24/08/2018 - VIB-UGent scientists have taken important steps forward in the development of a cancer-targeting immunotherapy. The team developed a treatment in mice that destroys part of the tumor and stimulates the immune system to attack surviving cancer cells

Scientists isolate new antibodies to fight human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

13/02/2017 - Researchers from VIB, UGent, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and several collaborators developed a new antiviral strategy to fight human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections in children.

Immunovaccine Announces Positive Phase 1 Topline Data for DepoVax™-based Respiratory Syncytial Virus Vaccine Candidate

13/10/2016 - Immunovaccine Inc announced positive topline results from its Phase 1 trial evaluating the safety and immunogenicity of DPX-RSV, its DepoVax™-based, small B cell epitope peptide vaccine candidate for RSV.

Positive Interim Phase 1 Data for DepoVax™-based Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Vaccine Candidate

06/07/2016 - Immunovaccine Inc. announced that a team of investigators has completed an interim analysis of the safety and immunogenicity of its DepoVax™ prophylactic RSV-vaccine candidate (DPX-RSV) in a Phase 1 clinical trial in healthy older adult volunteers.

Immunovaccine’s vaccine candidate for Respiratory Syncytial Virus is well tolerated in patients in Phase 1 clinical trial

30/10/2015 - Immunovaccine Inc., a clinical stage vaccine and immunotherapy company, announced that safety data from a Phase 1 clinical study showed that its DepoVax™ prophylactic Respiratory Syncytial Virus vaccine candidate was well tolerated.

Immunovaccine Initiates Clinical Trial with DPX-RSV Vaccine

30/06/2015 - Immunovaccine Inc. announced that it has enrolled the first healthy adult volunteer in a Phase 1 clinical study of its respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine.

Universal flu vaccine tested successfully on humans

26/12/2007 - The British-American biotech company Acambis reports the successful tests of the universal flu vaccine on humans.

Universal flu vaccine being tested on humans

17/07/2007 - A universal influenza vaccine that has been pioneered by researchers from VIB and Ghent University is being tested for the first time on humans by the British-American biotech company Acambis.

Xavier Saelens

Xavier Saelens

Research area(s)


​PhD: Univ. of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium, 1990
Postdoc: Univ. of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium, 1990-2004
VIB Project Leader since 2005
VIB Expert Scientist since 2009
VIB Group leader as of January 2015

Contact Info

VIB-UGent Center for Medical BiotechnologyUGent-VIB Research Building FSVMTechnologiepark 71 9052 GENT