1. What is the RS virus?
The RS virus is the most common cold virus in children. Almost all children have an infection in their first year of life, especially in winter.
The virus is especially dangerous for premature babies and children with congenital heart disease or Down syndrome. They have an increased risk of a more serious disease course. These children may be short of breath due to inflammation of the small airways (bronchiolitis) or pneumonia.
More than 100,000 children worldwide die from the virus every year. Every year, about 2000 babies end up in the hospital in the Netherlands. Mortality is rare in the Netherlands, but every year 150 to 200 children end up on the ICU.
2. An effective drug may now have been found. How does it work?
Scientists think they have found a solution: an injection that protects the child against serious disease progression for a year. The antibodies were injected into more than a thousand premature babies (who are at greater risk of serious disease course) from 23 countries, and in the winter that followed, there were 80 percent fewer hospital admissions in this group.
The antibodies eventually disappear from the body, but then the child has already passed the vulnerable period. In follow-up research, the scientists will examine whether this also works for children who are not born prematurely.
3. How hopeful are the results of the study?
Pediatrician Louis Bont (Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital) is enthusiastic about the research, in which he is not involved. He is an important specialist in this field in the Netherlands and sees the children’s ICs flooding with children who have the RS virus every year. “We’ve been looking for a solution for so long – we’ve been researching the RS virus for fifty years,” he told RTL Nieuws.
Bont finds the research results hopeful. “80 percent fewer hospital admissions is a lot. If you consider that half of the IC admissions around Christmas are due to the RS virus, it will be quiet Christmas days for pediatricians in the future.”
“But for the time being there is no reason to think that it would not work for this group. It could well be that this will be included in the National Vaccination Program in the future, so that all children will receive this medicine.”
4. What is special about the research?
There is a Dutch tint to the development, Bont explains. “The antibody that neutralizes the virus was discovered five years ago by immunologist Hergen Spits of the AMC. It was subsequently patented and manipulated in such a way that the agent is now very effective and works for a long time. That is something we can be proud of in the Netherlands . ”
5. If the follow-up study also gives positive results, when can the drug be used?
Even if everything goes well, it will still take a while before the product is released, Bont says. “It is expected that the drug will be approved and released in two or three years, and then it will take another five years. There is not a single child in the Netherlands who is benefiting from this now. The babies who will benefit from this in the future will have to be born. ”
6. What will the drug cost?
Officially, no price has yet been set, because the investigation is still ongoing. “But the manufacturer has already said it will be priced as a vaccine. A new vaccine will then be relatively expensive,” says Bont. He hopes it will be cost effective below the line.