VirApt addresses the need for novel therapeutic and prophylactic interventions against HIV-infection to limit the spread and the devastating effects of the global AIDS epidemic on societies in developing countries, and to provide therapeutic options in t he developed world as resistance to multi-drug treatment increases. In particular, the project aims to generate novel antiviral RNA aptamers that effectively inhibit entry of HIV. Aptamers are relatively short (12-30 base) single-stranded oligonucleotide s that assume defined, stable conformations and bind tightly to very specific targets. VirApt will primarily focus on aptamers that target membrane fusion, but will also endeavour to select aptamers that inhibit HIV entry at the level of receptor or co-r eceptor binding. The aptamers will be developed along three lines: as an antiviral drug, as a topical microbicide and as a basis for the design of a small molecular weight entry inhibitor. In VirApt, European expertise required to reach these goals was a ssembled, including a group experienced in aptamer isolation (Peter Stockley, Leeds), an SME that focuses on the development of antiviral therapies (Dorothee von Laer, Vision7, Hannover) and experts in structure analysis (Felix Rey, Paris). The selection of oligonucleotide aptamers is a basic and important platform technology from which products with a broad range of different applications will be developed. VirApt can help promote this crucial technology in Europe.
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