Csr 09/07/2020

AG supports KU Leuven research on COVID-19 vaccine development and treatment

When it comes to virology research, Belgian labs have a top-notch reputation. In the global quest for vaccines against COVID-19, it is more important than ever to mobilise sufficient resources to carry out and support their groundbreaking work. This is what prompted AG and Ageas to jointly donate EUR 750,000 to fund research conducted by the KU Leuven’s world-renowned Rega Institute. In the words of CEO Hans De Cuyper, "This is our way of making a real socially responsible contribution to the fight against the most devastating pandemic in 100 years."

The Rega Institute, associated with KU Leuven Teaching Hospital, is one of the many centres for scientific research urgently working to understand and defeat the novel coronavirus. Given the Institute's position as one of the world's leading virology research centres, its commitment to the cause is hardly surprising. The research led by Professor Johan Neyts focuses on developing a high-performance vaccine and identifying existing drugs that can help treat infected patients. 

The COVID-19 vaccine candidate being tested by Professor Neyts' team is based on the existing yellow fever vaccine. To narrow the finalists down to this candidate, several prototypes were extensively trialled on hamsters. This 9 July, KU Leuven announced the first already very promising research results. Even just one dose of the vaccine provides almost complete protection against a SARS-CoV2 lung infection in hamsters. The research team is optimistic about these potentially game-changing results. Before the vaccine can be administered to humans, it must be manufactured by a facility with the required accreditation. Only then can the clinical trials be started. 

Virus inhibitors
In addition to a vaccine, the world is also anxiously awaiting a powerful antiviral drug against coronavirus. KU Leuven scientists are in the process of conducting a number of promising research projects. They are looking for components of the many existing drugs that may slow down coronavirus infection. The effectiveness of such drug cocktails is being studied, first in cell cultures, and then in infected hamsters. The researchers hope to identify a combination of existing drugs whose effectiveness can be studied in patients if the virus flares up again. 
In any event, it is also extremely important to develop very powerful and specific coronavirus inhibitors. For example, powerful antiviral drugs have been developed to treat HIV, but not coronavirus. The researchers are examining hundreds of thousands of substances in the hope of finding a few molecules that inhibit the virus in cell cultures. The process is much like looking for a needle in a haystack. If this can be accomplished, they will then work together with pharmaceutical chemists to improve the effectiveness and hopefully develop a specific powerful inhibitor of the virus. 

Deepest gratitude
With a support package totalling EUR 750,000, AG and parent company Ageas have made a significant contribution towards continuing and intensifying the research efforts. 


Professor Johan Neyts:
" I am very grateful to AG and Ageas for their generous support, which will give us the financial wherewithal to continue our research. The global scale of the pandemic and the ever-increasing number of infections makes it more important than ever for scientists, governments and captains of industry to join forces. The fact that companies the size of AG and Ageas share this belief gives me hope that we will eventually be able to defeat COVID-19 and other viruses that may crop up."

Hans De Cuyper, CEO of AG: 
"As a heavyweight in Belgian society, we are particularly delighted to be able to support a Belgian institution with the international name and fame of the Rega Institute in their vitally important work. We are in the clutches of the worst pandemic in the last 100 years, with a devastating impact on the lives of us all. By supporting this fundamental research, we wanted to make a meaningful contribution towards getting society and the economy quickly back on their feet again." 

Bart De Smet, CEO of Ageas:  
"Social responsibility is embedded in the DNA of Ageas and its subsidiaries, as is working together with first-class partners who are experts in their field. We did not hesitate for even a second to lend our support to the Rega Institute and KU Leuven. Our sincere condolences go out to the families who unfortunately lost their loved ones in the fight against COVID-19. We thank all those who continue to show their humanity and look out for the most vulnerable members of our society." 

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