Fondation Merieux

A family foundation dedicated to fighting infectious diseases

Recent progress in antiviral therapy discussed at the 4th Christophe Mérieux Trends in Virology conference

The 4th Christophe Mérieux Trends in Virology conference convened 67 experts from various disciplines (virologists, chemists, infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists and veterinarians) involved in the development and implementation of antiviral strategies. They met at the Fondation Mérieux Conference Centre, Les Pensières, from 27-29 January, to discuss recent developments in the field of antiviral therapy.

Viral infections remain a major public health threat worldwide. Significant progress achieved in the antiviral field during the last decades has improved or saved the lives of millions of patients, most notably those infected with HIV, hepatitis B and C viruses and herpes simplex viruses. Anti-flu molecules are the only solution for infected patients at the beginning of a severe flu pandemic. Prof. Michael Sofia from the company Oncor Biopharma presented the development story that led to the success of new treatments for hepatitis C. Several presentations concerned research on new molecules to fight against these infections, including those by Prof. Zoulim (Inserm, Lyon), Prof. Baumert (Inserm, Strasbourg) and Prof. Sarrazin (University of Frankfurt), which took into account, in particular, the issue of emerging resistance to current treatments.

Serious efforts are underway to develop drugs for the treatment of infections with respiratory syncytial virus or rhinoviruses, among others. Prof. Charles Penn of WHO provided a detailed description of the challenges of treating viral diseases. The development costs of drugs are very high and for many other, often life-threatening, viral infections, the development of antivirals is still desperately needed. This includes flaviviruses such as dengue, respiratory infections such as coronaviruses, rabies, and hemorrhagic fever viruses.

Several presentations covered recent advances in this area, in particular those by Prof. Sebastian Johnston, Imperial College of London, on rhinoviruses; Prof. Stephan Günther, Bernhard Nocht Institute of Hamburg, on the hemorrhagic fever viruses Lassa, Ebola and Marburg; Dr. James Whitehorn, Oxford University at Ho Chi Minh City, on dengue and Dr. Noël Tordo, Pasteur Institute of Paris, on rabies. Dr. Jean-Christophe Audonnet, from Merial, presented recent developments in the treatment of viral diseases affecting livestock.

Along with the development of new antiviral therapies, strong capacity-building of healthcare systems is also needed. The most vulnerable patients often live in remote places or have limited resources and access to healthcare infrastructures. Several presentations concerned simplified formulations for HIV treatments (Dr. Calvin Cohen, Community Research Initiative of New England, USA), the ’recycling’ of molecules for use in developing countries (Dr. Michael Holscher, University of Munich), the role of generic drugs (Dr. Yazdan Yazdanpanah, Inserm, Paris) or programs for treatment access in developing countries (Dr. Lilian Lou, Gilead, USA).

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