Prof. Johan Neyts
award winning Professor in Virology & co-founder of Okapi Sciences
Novel vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat viral infections in the developing world.
Viral infections have a major impact on health and quality of life in developing countries. The best known example is HIV/AIDS. An estimated 1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016, mostly in developing countries. In 2005 the number of casualties was 1.9 million. This reduction can be largely attributed to the use of potent antiviral drugs. At the end of 2016, US$ 19.1 billion was available for the AIDS response in low- and middle-income countries. UNAIDS set the following goals (i) by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, (ii) by 2020, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (iii) by 2020, 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. One of the most widely used anti-HIV drugs is tenofovir, a drug discovered at KULeuven. Against many other viral infections, no there is no therapy available. I will explain our efforts in developing such drugs, for example against the dengue virus, a pathogen that sickens annually an estimated 100 million people. Even better than treatment is prevention of infections. This can be achieved by using vaccines. Most vaccines need however to be strictly kept cold to remain active. This is in particular a problem in remote (sub)tropical regions in developing countries. We developed a revolutionary technology to produce vaccines that are thermostable and thus do no longer require such cold-chain. In addition, the technology allows to rapidly produce new vaccines in case novel pathogens emerge.