New development pipeline for RNA-based antiviral therapeutics
In the iGUARD project (integrated Guided Ultrafast Antiviral RNAi Drug development), a team of researchers at Fraunhofer ITEM led by Prof. Armin Braun and at the Hannover Medical School led by Prof. Axel Schambach is developing RNA-based therapeutics for treating viral diseases. The idea is that the drugs should be adaptable to different viruses particularly quickly so as to enable protection against emerging viral infectious diseases. The iGUARD team of researchers is focusing on the parainfluenza virus, which can cause severe respiratory infections, especially in individuals with a compromised immune system. The aim is to use what is known as RNA interference (RNAi) to prevent the virus from replicating and spreading in the body. Patients with a viral infection could be treated with small RNA fragments (siRNAs) that specifically find and degrade the viral mRNAs, thereby preventing virus replication. Tests with RNAi compounds in human tissue slices and cell cultures have already demonstrated high efficacy. The next step will be to test the RNAi candidates for safety and efficacy in animal models. Furthermore, the RNA therapeutic is intended to be delivered directly to the lower respiratory tract by inhaled administration. Suitable inhalation systems are already being developed. The project has been funded by the German Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND) since 2021 and is now receiving an additional 1.5 million euros of follow-on funding for another year.