Chileans creating drug against deadly respiratory disease

The new treatment fights the metapneumovirus, the second-leading cause of respiratory disease in the world.

The human metapneumovirus (hMPV) is the second-leading cause of respiratory disease in the world, renown for generating airway inflammation in children and older adults.

Unlike other respiratory viruses, the hMPV virus infects immune cells that regulate the respiratory system. This mechanism was discovered by a team of scientists at the Universidad Católica’s Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Department, and this same group of researchers is now developing a drug therapy to combat this life-threatening disease.

About hMPV

According to Dr. Alexis Kalergis, the lead scientist of the vaccine development project, hMPV is a global health problem.

«The hMPV is the second most common cause of acute respiratory tract infections in children, causing a significant burden on public health systems worldwide,” Dr. Kalergis told La Tercera.

At the moment there is no treatment to combat the virus. Outbreaks have been found throughout the world, and tend to follow a seasonal distribution pattern similar to that of the influenza virus during the winter.

Developing a treatment

The hMPV prevents immune systems from responding adequately, causing a patient to be able to become infected with the virus multiple times in a short period. The solution to this problem could lie in developing an immunological trigger within the immune system of an individual, according to Dr. Kalergis.

The doctor’s new vaccine aims to «help the immune system of the infected individual use elements of the virus that do not cause disease.» The end result will be antibodies and T cells that prevent the virus from infecting individual tissues.

Dr. Kalergis and his team are currently conducting preclinical studies in the laboratory to evaluate the effectiveness of the therapy. Next will come human clinical studies. Overall, the vaccine could be ready in five to eight years.

The team also includes doctoral student Paul Céspedes and assistant professor at Universidad Católica Pablo Gonzalez.