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EU research fights killer viruses’ stubborn resistance to drugs

29.06.2004


Viruses’ growing resistance to drugs means diseases such as hepatitis B and C are increasingly difficult to treat. New pandemics may arise with unforeseeable consequences. The EU is therefore contributing € 9 million to the “Vigilance against Viral Resistance” (VIRGIL) project, to be launched today in Lyon (France). It will start by addressing drug resistance in viral hepatitis and influenza, but will broaden its scope to other viruses. The network will be based on research and technological platforms to monitor existing, and anticipate future, drug resistance. One platform will monitor, test and improve the management of antiviral drug resistance in patients while another will show how resistance occurs and help understand patient-related (immune/genetic) factors causing viral resistance. Other platforms for drugs and pharmacology and for innovation and technology will allow anticipation of ways to rapidly overcome drug resistance. Finally, a societal impact platform will assess the network’s benefit for medicine and patients’ quality of life. VIRGIL, coordinated by Lyon’s INSERM research centre, will gather 55 key European field experts from 12 countries, including 7 partners from industry.

“The heavy use of antibiotics, particularly in hospitals, hastens mutations in bacteria which bring about drug resistance. The same happens in viruses when antiviral drugs are used extensively,” European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said. “VIRGIL complements a €30 million EU research investment into antimicrobial drug resistance over the past two years to address this growing problem. Through collaboration between European academic researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, clinicians and public health authorities the network will help overcome problems associated with viral drug resistance to help save lives.”

Killer diseases: on the rampage?



Viral hepatitis causes chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. Although a safe and efficient vaccine does exist for hepatitis B, over 350 million people around the world are now chronically infected with this virus. For hepatitis C, no vaccine exists and over 1% of Europeans are carriers. Intensive clinical use of the few available drugs has led to rapidly emerging drug resistance for some viruses so that these drugs are no longer efficient.

Yearly epidemics of new flu strains infect 5-15% of the world population with up to 500.000 deaths. Genetic changes in the influenza virus may lead to severe epidemics of global dimension (pandemics), such as the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed over 40 million people. Experts now fear another pandemic may arise shortly with unforeseeable consequences. Access to efficient drugs will be essential in such a catastrophic scenario. Again, the virus is likely to develop drug resistance.

EU research saves lives and money

The VIRGIL network will be able to rapidly and reliably determine resistance to new drugs and the drug susceptibility of emerging viral strains based on new treatments. The network aims to link up with the antiviral drug producing pharmaceutical industry in a cost-effective partnership that will help to ensure longer access to treatment and cure for the patients. This will help contain the socio-economic burden of viral resistance, now representing a major health problem with higher health care and drug development costs.

Fabio Fabbi | EU Commission
Further information:
http://www.europa.eu.int
http://www.virgil-net.org

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