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National Science Foundation project to investigate antiviral agents against measles and other viral diseases

In the fight against viral diseases, not only vaccines, but also new, virus-inhibiting agents are in demand. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has approved a large-scale project, which will last a number of years and cost 2.1 million Swiss francs, to develop such antiviral agents. The project was submitted by the ZHAW in Wädenswil in collaboration with the University of Bern. The funds from the SNSF Sinergia funding scheme will be used to promote the development of agents against viral diseases, such as measles.

The Sinergia project entitled “Morbillivirus cell entry machinery: mechanisms, structures and drug discovery” will last for four years and promises groundbreaking insights in the field of antiviral drug research with far-reaching implications for health care systems. The project is headed by ZHAW researcher Rainer Riedl from the Centre for Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical Product Development, along with Dimitrios Fotiadis from the Faculty of Medicine and Philippe Plattet from the Vetsuisse Faculty, both at the University of Bern.

The challenge of viral diseases

Infectious diseases like measles caused by viruses are a huge challenge for our healthcare systems, as they can reach epidemic proportions. It is foreseeable that vaccination alone will not be sufficient to completely eliminate such viral diseases. The goal set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate measles by 2020, for example, is currently becoming less and less achievable. Even in Europe, where a highly effective vaccine is widely available, fatal measles outbreaks occur time and again. Specific antiviral drugs are therefore needed, in addition to an effective vaccine, in order to successfully eliminate the disease. Unfortunately, such virus-inhibiting agents do not yet exist. Developing pharmaceutical agents is a highly complex process which requires the combination of a number of scientific disciplines, a long time period and considerable financial resources. The Swiss National Science Foundation provides a custom-made funding instrument for such a purpose with its Sinergia funding scheme.“Sinergia promotes the interdisciplinary collaboration of two to four research groups that propose breakthrough research,” states the description. The Sinergia evaluation commission considered the proposal submitted by the antiviral research consortium to be so convincing that it assigned the highest promotion level to the project. The SNSF promotes Sinergia projects carrying out interdisciplinary research that promises groundbreaking findings. It will invest up to 250 million Swiss francs between 2017 and 2020 for this purpose.

Clear goals

The project is pursuing several clear goals. One focus is the development of specific antiviral drugs. This requires target-oriented collaboration between the individual research groups. In Philippe Plattet’s laboratory at the Vetsuisse Faculty in Bern, new cell-based assays are being developed to investigate the virus’s molecular entry into a host cell and to identify efficient agents to inhibit this process. The Fotiadis lab at the University of Bern will support this study using high resolution electron microscopy to determine the three-dimensional structure of proteins that participate in the infection. This information will then provide a basis for the structure-based design of new pharmaceutical agents, which is one of the core strengths of the ZHAW Centre for Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical Product Development headed by Rainer Riedl. He will pursue the preclinical development of the drugs, so that they can develop their potential in subsequent clinical studies. A further goal of the project is to understand the mechanisms of viruses’ resistance to antiviral drugs. This knowledge will be of paramount importance in combating resistant viruses in the future. Drug resistance in general is a global problem for health care systems. This holds true for antiviral and anticancer drugs, as well as antibiotics. The ZHAW Centre for Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical Product Development has been working intensively in this field in recent years.


Specialist for media contact

Prof. Rainer Riedl, Head of Centre for Drug Discovery and Pharmaceutical Product Development, Institute of Chemistry and Biotechnology, ZHAW School of Life Sciences and Facility Management, Wädenswil, phone 058 934 56 18, email 

Media relations ZHAW/Wädenswil

Cornelia Sidler, Media Relations ZHAW School of Life Sciences and Facility Management, Wädenswil, phone 058 934 53 66, email