Ville de Marseille

Novembre 2012 >

EVA and SILVER: Marseilles catches the research virus

EVA and SILVER: Marseilles catches the research virus

Particularly active in the fight against viruses, Marseilles' scientific research laboratories are involved in initiatives organized by two European Consortiums. Baptized EVA and SILVER, these projects promote research and development in new ways of diagnosing and combating viral diseases.

­There are currently very few vaccines and no effective drugs for the treatment of patients with viral diseases such as chikungunya or dengue.

In Marseilles, the teams researching AFMB (Functional Architecture of Biological Molecules) in Luminy headed by Yves Bourne and the emerging viruses unit at La Timone Hospital, headed by Xavier Lamballerie, joined the SILVER* programme in 2010.

Their mission To identify, by 2014, some of the antiviral chemical compounds capable of blocking the multiplication of viruses in the human body. The programme has received €11M from Brussels and includes 23 European partners as well as research centres in Asia. "We have identified collections of chemical compounds in Shanghai, Taipei and Seoul.  These laboratories have their own funding programmes," explains Professor Jean-Louis Romette, co-coordinator of the SILVER project with Ernest Gould, an eminent professor at Oxford and virology expert. 

Antiviral drugs and a virus collection

­Professeur Jean-Louis RometteThe programme focuses on the study of twenty viruses at the origin of the most widespread viral infections. Researchers are targeting emerging RNA viruses, which are the most dangerous due to their instability.

As work progresses, the laboratories will concentrate on certain viruses. "Our goal is to develop 5 or 6 effective antiviral drugs. We have some molecules with high potential", explains Professor Romette.  This pooling of academic abilities should then enable rapid development by pharmaceutical companies of these molecules to produce commercial antiviral drugs in a few years.

The European Virus Archive or EVA project, is a virus collection for use in academic and industrial research. It not only provides viruses for fundamental research but also for the development of new diagnostic tests, vaccines and antiviral drugs. "Each laboratory keeps its own viral strains. We have developed a catalogue on the web. This European project consists of a core European laboratories combined with partners in South Africa, Russia, Turkey and China. Previously, the exchange of viruses between laboratories relied on the goodwill of researchers to collaborate with each other", explains Nora Ghandur, responsible for public relations and the development of the two projects.  

Now the exchanges are standardized and benefit from a secure dispatching system. "Since the start of the programme in 2004 we have introduced good storage and dispatching practices.  We are working with pharmaceutical companies to develop very high resistance capsules, identified by bar codes", emphasizes Nora Ghandour. EVA also participates in networks organized by the WHO to provide rapid responses in the identification and detection of pathogens in the event of a health emergency.

­*SILVER: Small molecule Inhibitor Leads Versus Emerging and neglected RNA viruses.