Engineering a treatment for dengue

Assoc Prof Ooi Eng Eong
Assoc Prof Ooi Eng Eong

The quest for a treatment that can effectively target all four dengue serotypes could finally be over. A group of scientists, engineers and drug developers have come together to engineer an antibody that can potentially neutralise all four dengue serotypes.

Published in the journal Cell, the work was a collaborative effort between researchers from Duke-NUS, the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the biotechnology company, Visterra.

The international team, using a naturally occurring antibody as a framework, formulated a new antibody using computational methods developed by MIT and SMART. NTU then confirmed and validated the structure of this new antibody. SMART, NUS and Duke-NUS later tested and showed that the new antibody had the potential to neutralise the dengue virus and prevent signs of the disease.

Importantly, this new antibody is able to engage a part of the dengue virus that had previously escaped the human immune response. It augments this response to produce better resistance against the virus.

“We have each been working on our own areas of interests for years,” said Associate Professor Ooi Eng Eong, co-author of the study and Deputy Director of the Duke-NUS Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases. “To be able to take each of the pieces we have built over the years and combine it together to hopefully solve a critical medical need has been very rewarding personally and professionally.”

The breakthrough took three years of research and was made possible by the independent efforts of the interdisciplinary teams working simultaneously. This antibody is now being developed by Visterra, in partnership with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Drug Discovery and Development unit for clinical trials next year.

This research is supported by the National Research Foundation Singapore under its Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise programme; and the US National Institutes of Health.