Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - AIROPICO (Academia-Industry Research and Development Opportunities for Picornaviruses)

Publishable summary

The AIROPico project aims to investigate the following questions:
• How do picornaviruses cause disease?
• Can we develop a rapid diagnostic test for the detection of human picornaviruses to identify specific picornaviruses in patient material?
• Can we develop therapies against picornavirus infections?

The picornavirus family is a very large virus family and picornaviruses are the most commonly encountered infection agents in mankind. The most famous picornavirus—poliovirus—has been a terrible burden for mankind for centuries, and historically picornavirus research was thus predominantly focused on this virus. Polio has now been brought close to complete eradication, but multiple other picornaviruses, for example, rhinoviruses and enteroviruses, routinely infect humans. They cause a plethora of diseases ranging from mild respiratory infections to life-threatening encephalitis and acute flaccid paralysis.

Several large picornavirus epidemics and multiple smaller outbreaks have occurred recently, but we have no vaccines or antivirals to control them. The development of picornavirus therapies is hampered by our lack of understanding the virus biology. The AIROPico research project focuses on clinically relevant picornaviruses aiming to gain a deeper understanding of picornavirus biology and translate it into improving diagnostics and development of vaccines and antivirals.

AIROPico is the first EU consortium focusing solely on human picornavirus research. It is an Industry Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) project, and research is performed by researchers that are exchanged by their current employer to one of the other AIROPico partners. As a rule, researchers coming from an industrial work environment are exchanged to an academic research group and vice versa. This way transfer of knowledge (TOK) between the two sectors (academia and industry) is secured and will benefit the research performed within the consortia. Once an exchange is finished, the researcher returns to the sending institute to disseminate the learned techniques, resulting in an optimal exchange of knowledge. Within the AIROPico consortium there are 27 planned exchanges. In addition 6 researchers are hired from outside the consortium to also provide new knowledge to the consortium.

After two years, the AIROPico consortium has been successful in reaching all milestones and deliverables for months 0-24. To optimize transfer of knowledge and to build a sustainable network the consortium has organized several meetings. A kick-off meeting was held in Amsterdam on January 26th and 27th 2014. A consortium meeting including a first workshop on intellectual property rights, commercialization and product development was held at The University of Helsinki on November 26th and 27th 2014 and a second workshop on the application of human 3D culture models for virus research was held on October 22nd 2015 in Amsterdam followed by the midterm evaluation meeting on October 23rd 2015 also in Amsterdam.

In addition, a publicly accessible website ( was launched in May 2014. Five excellent postdocs have been recruited and 8 exchanges have been implemented. There is currently one researcher from the University of Helsinki exchanged to Protobios LLC in Tallinn, and 5 more exchanges that were partly performed and are scheduled for the second and final part in the next period.

One of the first publicly available AIROPico results is a publication accepted to the Journal of Virology in July 2015. In brief, this publication by Shakeel et al. in the Journal of Virology focuses on the human parechoviruses that cause mild to severe infections in infants with no therapies available. The research described in the publication provides an atomic model of human parechovirus 1. This new information on the structure of this particular parechovirus enabled further research to describe the details of antibody binding to specific structures of the virus (epitopes). Two potentially therapeutic antibodies with the capacity to neutralize human parechovirus 1 were identified. Strikingly, these antibodies also have the capacity to neutralize other human parechoviruses as well (Westerhuis et al 2015 J. Virology). We now know exactly which viral structures are targeted by the two antibodies, and the mechanism through which these antibodies neutralize the virus. For example, one antibody binds at exactly the same spot that is used by the virus to attach to human target cells. Hence, binding of the antibody to the virus renders the virus unable to attach to the human target cells resulting in a “harmless” virus. This is a first step towards developing therapies against parechoviruses, which is one of the long term goals of AIROPico.

Ultimately these therapies or products will be used in the clinic, providing physicians for the first time hands-on tools to actually treat patients that suffer from severe picornavirus infections resulting in faster recovery. The earlier detection and improved treatment of picornaviruses will reduce the strain on healthcare institutions and decrease workforce dropout.

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Academisch Medisch Centrum bij de Universiteit van Amsterdam
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