New RSV monoclonal antibody therapy for infants is significant milestone

August 29, 2023

IN THE NEWS:  As respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season approaches, the recently approved monoclonal antibody therapy for infants and the vaccines for older adults and pregnant women represent a significant milestone in preventive healthcare.

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RSV is the leading cause for hospitalization among infants in the U.S. and until recently, there were no treatments available to prevent severe illness in infants or older adults. This past July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a monoclonal antibody therapy for infants and toddlers who are at a heightened risk of severe disease from RSV.

Dr. Coleen K. Cunningham spoke with The New York Times about how the anatomical differences in infants' respiratory systems contribute to their heightened vulnerability to RSV complications.

"Babies over 8 months old can also become ill with RSV, but they’re far less likely to have to be in the hospital or far less likely to get severely ill," she says. "That’s because the youngest infants’ airways are just smaller, so any little bit of swelling in that airway has a bigger impact on how well they can breathe."

Besides the monoclonal antibody therapy for infants, several U.S. research teams also are working on RSV vaccines for young children. One group led by Cunningham, a nationally regarded expert in pediatric infectious diseases, is testing a nasal-drop vaccine containing a weakened version of the RSV virus developed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for children between the ages of 6 and 24 months.

Cunningham is a UCI Health pediatrician who serves as chair of the UCI School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics and senior vice president and pediatrician-in-chief at CHOC Children's Hospital of Orange County. She is renowned for her work on HIV and AIDS in children. She also has been awarded several competitive research grants and served on National Institutes of Health review panels.

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