A team of Australian researchers is close to completing a 20-year project to develop the world's first vaccine to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a breakthrough that could save thousands of children every year.
According to research published in Lancet Infectious Diseases on Wednesday, Niversimab is a safe and effective monoclonal antibody treatment for babies.
Researchers expect the treatment to be available within 12 months, followed closely by a maternal vaccine for newborns that protects them against RSV during pregnancy.
University of Western Australia professor Peter Richmond, head of the Vaccine Trials Group and dean of the School of Paediatrics, said Niversimab had just completed phase three clinical trials.
"It should be approved for use as the very first RSV prevention treatment in the United States and Europe by the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023, " he said.
Each year, RSV causes more than 100,000 deaths and 3.6 million hospitalizations worldwide. Infection of the lungs and airways can result in life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis.
Despite its high burden of disease, attempts to develop an RSV vaccine have been unsuccessful for more than 50 years. Due to both the difficulty of immunizing very young infants, who often respond inadequately to vaccinations, and the fact that past experimental vaccines have triggered more serious infections, progress has been hindered.
The team was especially excited given the context of their own phases 1 and 2 studies dating back more than a decade, "It has been a long journey to get here," Richmond said. "As a paediatrician who has treated sick babies with RSV for over 30 years, the idea that we can prevent a large portion of these illnesses is fantastic, and I feel fortunate to have been involved."
Currently, Richmond and his colleagues are assessing parental awareness of RSV in order to develop educational materials.
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