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EU Project Targets Killer Viruses


A new project targeting the increasing resistance of some viruses to drugs is being funded with the help of nine million euros under the Life Sciences, Genomics and Biotechnology for Health area of the EU’s Framework Programme.

The VIRGIL (Vigilance against Viral Resistance) project brings together experts from 55 organisations in 12 European countries to examine the problems being faced in treating certain diseases. Many of these problems have been caused by our heavy use of antivirals in treating viruses and this is resulting in a growing number of mutations in viruses that are becoming increasingly resistant to drugs.

VIRGIL draws on the experience of the top academic researchers within Europe as well as the pharmaceutical industry, clinicians and public health authorities to help save lives by overcoming the problems associated with viral drug resistance.

“Acute and chronic viral infections represent a major public health problem in Europe and are responsible for a major socio-economical burden”, says Howard Thomas, Professor of Medicine at Imperial College. “The development of new antiviral drugs and new diagnostic tools in the past decade has played a major role in the improvement of patient care and treatment of viral diseases to extend the quality and duration of human life. However, their increased use - and sometimes misuse - in medicine have brought about viral drug resistance. This has led to treatment failure and increased costs for health care and society.

“As there is no global programme to develop strategies for the surveillance and containment of viral resistance to antiviral agents, there is a clear need to implement a European program to optimise patients care and to minimise emergence and spread of antiviral drug resistance. The overall objective of the VIRGIL Network of Excellence is to set up the first-ever European Vigilance Network capable of addressing current and emerging antiviral drug resistance developments that will allow for the management of this critical problem in Europe.”

Initially, VIRGIL will be looking into drug resistance in the treatment of three major diseases - hepatitis B and C and influenza. This is because research shows that more than 520 million people around the world are chronically infected by hepatitis viruses (B or C). In addition, new strains of influenza cause up to 500,000 deaths every year worldwide. However, it is intended to broaden the scope later in the project.

VIRGIL is being built around seven ’research and technological platforms’ all centred around the patients. Two of them will test and monitor antiviral drug resistance in patients with the aim of improving and standardising the management of viral resistance on a global level. Other platforms will look to find the reasons for the increasing drug resistance with particular focus on patient-related factors. The project will also investigate how drugs, pharmacology, innovation and technology can be brought together to anticipate ways to beat drug resistance.

“Viral resistance is becoming a major health problem”, says Claire Horton, FP6UK’s National Contact Point for Life Sciences, Genomics and Biotechnology for Health. “The VIRGIL project complements a 30 million euro EU research investment into antimicrobial drug resistance over the past two years to address this growing problem.

Dave Sanders | alfa
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