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.
Senior expert scientist: Walter Fiers
GM-CSF treatment prevents respiratory syncytial virus-induced pulmonary exacerbation responses in postallergic mice by stimulating alveolar macrophage maturationNaessens T, Schepens B, Smet M, Pollard C, Van Hoecke L, De Beuckelaer A, Willart M, Lambrecht B, De Koker S, Saelens X, 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 J, Spitaels J, Nurnberger C, De Vlieger D, Ysenbaert T, Staeheli P, Fiers W, Saelens XJOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, 89, 10879-90, 2015 Protection and mechanism of action of a novel human respiratory syncytial virus vaccine candidate based on the extracellular domain of small hydrophobic proteinSchepens B, Sedeyn K, Vande Ginste L, De Baets S, Schotsaert M, Roose K, Houspie L, Van Ranst M, Gilbert B, Van Rooijen N, Fiers W, Piedra P, Saelens XEMBO Molecular Medicine, 6, 1436-54, 2014 Natural and long-lasting cellular immune responses against influenza in the M2e-immune hostSchotsaert M, Ysenbaert T, Neyt K, Ibanez L, Bogaert P, Schepens B, Lambrecht B, Fiers W, Saelens XMucosal Immunology, 6, 276-87, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
16/10/2014 - Scientists at VIB and Ghent University have succeeded in developing a promising vaccination strategy to counteract this common virus infection.
26/08/2011 - BBC World News interviews Xavier Saelens about his quest to develop a universal flu vaccine.
26/12/2007 - The British-American biotech company Acambis reports the successful tests of the universal flu vaccine 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.
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
VIB-UGent Center for Medical BiotechnologyUGent-VIB Research Building FSVMTechnologiepark 927 9052 GENT