Prevention of respiratory infections in chronic lung diseases

Protecting patients with chronic lung diseases against respiratory viral infections by inhalation of interferon nanocapsules

Acute viral infections often worsen chronic lung diseases

© Fraunhofer CIMD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchial asthma are amongst the most common chronic lung diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide. In Germany, about 6 million people are affected by COPD. The risk of COPD is comparable to that of asthma and diabetes and higher than heart attack. COPD and bronchial asthma are not only associated with a much reduced quality of life, but also represent a major burden on the healthcare and socioeconomic system as a result of chronic treatments, sickness absenteeism, requirement for rehabilitation measures, early retirement and premature death.

Acute respiratory viral infections are amongst major triggers of acute exacerbation of COPD and asthma and contribute significantly to the disease progression. In clinical practice, the possibilities of direct antiviral treatment or vaccination against respiratory viruses are very limited and basically restricted to influenza viruses. 

Development of nanocapsules with antiviral cytokines in this project

© Fraunhofer CIMD

Formulation development and preclinical testing

In this project, scientists are developing nanocapsules for inhaled administration which will release antiviral cytokines into the lung. A slow release of antiviral cytokines from the nanocapsules will support the immune system of the lung in preventing and treating respiratory infections in patients with chronic respiratory diseases. In addition, these cytokines have an anti-inflammatory effect and can thus help to limit the progressive inflammatory processes in the course of the disease.

This treatment strategy can be used both for prevention and treatment and can be used against viral infections of the lungs in general and are not limited to the treatment of influenza viruses.

The nanocapsules, mechanism to sustain the release from nanocapsules and composition of antiviral cytokines are being developed at Fraunhofer ITMP in cooperation with Goethe University Frankfurt. Efficacy, safety and toxicity testing of the nanocapsules will be performed at Fraunhofer ITEM.


Initially, the synergistic effects of different antiviral cytokines are being tested. In the next step, nanocapsules for the selected composition of cytokines will be developed. These nanocapsules will be formulated to allow a slow release of the selected cytokines and to be biodegradable.

Using complex in vitro and in vivo models, selected nanocapsules will be tested for safety and efficacy. An inhalation system for the nanocapsules will also be developed and optimized. Within this project, the effectiveness of the nanocapsules against human rhinoviruses and influenza viruses shall be tested.