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Training network providing cutting-EDGE knowlEDGE on Herpes Virology and Immunology

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EDGE (Training network providing cutting-EDGE knowlEDGE on Herpes Virology and Immunology)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2020-10-31

Herpesviruses are major pathogenic viruses that can give rise to severe diseases especially in children, immunocompromised individuals, and elderly. Many individuals harbour several latent herpesvirus infections, potentially reactivated by different stimuli to cause disease. The various Herpes viruses can infect neurons, and cause blinding keratitis, encephalitis as well as painful skin infections, notably herpes zoster. Some types are further known to induce multiple tumours or to increase the susceptibility to HIV infection. Due to the lack of satisfactory efficacy of anti-herpesvirus drugs, there is an urgent need for the development of new therapeutics against these viruses. Yet mechanistic insights are limited, and thus there is a need for in-depth understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of herpesvirus diseases at the individualised level. With the recent expansion in knowledge on the contribution of the immune responses to both antiviral defence and the pathology of herpesvirus infections, there are novel and currently untapped opportunities to develop new drugs and treatments.
The rationale behind this Innovative Training Network, providing cutting-EDGE knowlEDGE on herpes virology and immunology (EDGE), was the hypothesis that the gap between mechanistic knowledge and more successful treatment of herpesvirus infections can be narrowed by educating and training a new generation of scientists (early career researchers: ESRs). The EDGE consortium has now trained 15 ESRs in an interdisciplinary program, where basic virology and immunology has been integrated with pharmaceutical industry and clinical medicine. This has led to the education of PhDs who are now well prepared to take on responsibilities for development and implementation of solutions to societal challenges in infection biology and medicine.
The EDGE ESRs have completed a training programme to acquire skills on research and innovation. In addition, the training programme included preparation for communication with the surrounding society, ranging from laymen to stake holders in the private biotech sector. The scientific work has led to a number of interesting discoveries. This has at this stage led to more than 30 publications, 21 with the ERSs as first authors. In addition, a number of papers are still under preparation, reporting the remaining parts of the EDGE scientific programme. This extensive list of papers together with the high number of conference attendances of our ESRs highlights the success of EDGE in disseminating results of its cutting-edge research. Specific examples of results from EDGE include (i) identification of novel host mechanisms of viral sensing and viral mechanisms of host evasion; (ii) identification of antiviral activities in animal models; (iii) characterization of immune mechanisms driving protective vaccine responses against a HSV vaccine candidate; (iv) identification of novel primary immunodeficiencies conferring susceptibility to specific herpesvirus infections. It is worth mentioning that the results include important findings in both basic, applied, and clinical virology/immunology, often involving several ESRs, hence demonstrating that the programme has successfully managed to achieve collaboration between sectors. In addition, the novel primary immunodeficiencies identified, have been implicated in diagnostics practice in the clinic at Aarhus University Hospital.
EDGE has had extensive focus on the training of the individual ESR with respect to core skills for the specific projects. The success of this part is reflected in the outcome of the research programme, demonstrated by the excellent progress and the successful completion of the ESR’s individual research projects. Over the years, the consortium of EDGE has become a very well-functioning research team, in which an active exchange of experiences was practiced and future joint project ideas have been already developed and are in planning. This will doubtlessly continue to impact future collaborations of the ESRs, beyond their studies within this Horizon2020 programme. In addition, the training programme of EDGE has included a number of secondments - with significant inter-sector exchange and an acquisition of transferable skills. Finally, we have invested time in career development plans with the ESRs, and guidance on immediate and long-term career plans. Many of the ESRs have now successfully moved on to new positions, to further develop their careers, and as a documentation of the broad training goal of EDGE, ESRs have found employment in all sectors involved in the program, namely basic research, pharmaceutical industry and clinical medicine.
The 15 trained ESRs originate from 10 different countries within and outside EU, demonstrating a high level of mobility and thus substantially contributes to the internationalisation of education in Europe. EDGE has substantially contributed to innovation at the European level, with the full integration of non-academic partners playing a key role. The individual projects allowed the generation of knowledge with immediate importance for society, for example through directly affecting and changing clinical practice of infectious diseases or through a rapid translation into innovative actions by our non-academic partners. Consequently, the innovation potential for Europe has increased in areas such as drug development for infectious diseases, vaccines, and diagnostics. The excellent research of the EDGE-ESRs has not only led to a number of publications in top ranked journals, but also to one patent and to the establishment of a start-up-company. Finally, through the continuous knowledge-exchange, the non-academic partners of EDGE (Jena Biosciences GmbH, Janssen/Crucell, and LADR GmbH) practically benefited from the ERSs’ work and input though the secondments and workshops.
Collectively, EDGE has successfully trained 15 ESRs in the interdisciplinary field of Herpes Virology an Immunology, resulting on fundamental new discoveries, innovation activities and medical translation. The results contribute to a valuable knowledge base, which will accelerate the development of vaccines and antiviral therapies. The ESRs have acquired key skills required to develop their careers at the interdisciplinary front-line of biomedical research and adjacent disciplines. Hence, the training and research output from EDGE contribute to societal advancement in EU. It will help the EU to achieve the goal to take a globally leading position and to provide rapid translation from discovery to improved patient care, for the benefit of European citizens.
EDGE mid-term review 2018