VirionHealth kicks off the development of a broad spectrum antiviral for all influenza strains and other viruses like RSV with a £13M investment in Series A.

VirionHealth is developing a new type of antiviral therapy with the potential to target multiple types of viruses at once. The treatment is based on natural antivirals called defective interfering viruses. They consist of a viral RNA sequence in which most of the genes have been deleted, thus rendering them non-infectious, but still retaining replication genes. The replication of these innocuous particles interferes with that of infectious viruses, inhibiting their infectious cycle.

This mechanism can therefore prevent and treat multiple viruses simultaneously, even after they mutate. VirionHealth has already demonstrated in mice models that the treatment is effective against all strains of influenza A, including seasonal and potentially pandemic strains. The treatment can also protect against influenza B and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) by inducing the production of interferon.

The technology comes from work at the University of Warwick by Professors Nigel Dimmock and Andrew Easton. Thanks to Abingworth, which has invested £13M in the Series A fundraising of VirionHealth, the company can now start working on bringing the therapy to the clinic. It’s rare to see such big first rounds in Europe, which attests to the big potential that Abingworth must see in the new company.

The idea of a single therapy to target all flu strains is not new. In fact, Sanofi is already working on a universal flu vaccine. However, its strategy consists of selecting antigens that are present in three to four strains, not all. And unlike VirionHealth’s, Sanofi’s flu vaccine could stop being effective when the virus mutates. Another competitor, London-based SEEK, is running a Phase II trial with its universal flu candidate Flu-v.

With 19 billion cases of respiratory tract infections each year, of which it is estimated 1 billion are due to influenza and 64 million to RSV in children, a therapy that can prevent multiple infections and once and get rid of seasonal shots has definitely a huge of potential to save lives and get a big portion of the antiviral and vaccine market.


Images via Teguh Mujiono and hvostik /Shutterstock; LE Liao et al. 

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  • John de Rivaz

    Hope this could also work with norovirus