Dr Albert Osterhaus
Head of Department of Virology
Erasmus MC at the University of Rotterdam
Dr. Albert Osterhaus is one of the world's leading virologists
and his group was the first to identify human infection with the
avian influenza strain H5N1.
After qualifying as a veterinarian, Albert Osterhaus moved into
research and graduated from Utrecht University in his native Netherlands
in 1978 with a PhD in virology. His first major breakthrough came
in 1998 when he identified a new morbilivirus that caused a mass
die-off of seals in Northwestern Europe. In 1997, his group discovered
that a Hong Kong flu strain that had killed a three-year-old boy
belonged to an avian influenza strain called H5N1. He was also the
first scientist to show that H5N1 can be transferred into humans.
In 2000 he and his team identified Influenza B virus, a type of
virus that normally infects only humans ‚ in seals off the
coast of the Netherlands.
In 2001, his group identified human metapneumovirus (hMPV), which
causes a spectrum of respiratory illnesses ranging from mild upper
respiratory tract infections to severe bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
He is currently involved in developing a vaccine and antibodies.
In April 2003, at the height of the panic over SARS (Severe Acquired
Respiratory Syndrome) in Hong Kong, he again showed his skill at
moving fast to tackle a serious problem. Within three weeks he had
proved that the disease was caused by a newly discovered coronavirus
that resides in civet cats, other carnivorous animals or bats.
Currently he heads a 100-strong lab at Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, is
the co-founder of two biotech companies, and is part of numerous
global collaborations. He is particularly interested in viruses
that cross species barriers, are highly pathogenic and which cause
disease globally ‚ viruses such as HIV, SARS CoV and influenza
Never one for concentrating on only one virus, Osterhaus is collaborating
internationally to develop an HIV vaccine. His group is heavily
involved with working on a vaccine against avian flu, as well as
studying the pathogenesis and the host range: why the virus crosses
the species barrier and under what conditions. Dr. Osterhaus is
also investigating the stability of the virus and the possibility
for genetic recombination and reassortment between different strains,
which could give rise to more dangerous infections.
Dr. Osterhaus considers that another flu pandemic is inevitable,
and is constantly campaigning for countries to show greater preparedness.
He is calling for the WHO and FAO to join forces with the World
Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and establish a global task
force to combat the virus. Dr. Osterhaus would also like to see
better monitoring of wild bird populations, the natural reservoir
of influenza A viruses.
Dr. Osterhaus has worked on a number of EU-funded projects and
is highly appreciative of EU funding, especially because financial
support from national organisations can be difficult to obtain.
One such EU project was NOVAFLU (‚1.76 million). This three-year
project began in Autumn 2002 under the leadership of Dr. Osterhaus,
with the goal of developing more effective strategies for vaccination
against inter-pandemic and pandemic influenza. The NOVAFLU project
has just ended and Dr. Osterhaus considers that the team has fulfilled
all the objectives, namely:
· Developing better strategies for vaccine strain selection
· Exploring alternative approaches for vaccine production
in cell culture systems
· Considering several novel vaccine candidates
· Evaluating animal model systems of influenza virus infection
to establish better laboratory correlates of clinical protection.
Dr. Osterhaus also works very closely with fellow virologists throughout
the world and is a keen “networker,” following the progress
of other flu-related projects such as FLUPAN with great interest.
Dr. Osterhaus is currently Professor of Virology, Medical Faculty,
Erasmus MC, Rotterdam (since 1993); Professor of Environmental Virology,
Veterinary Faculty, State University Utrecht (since 1990); Director
of the National Influenza Center (NIC), Rotterdam (since 1993);
Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Arboviruses and Haemorrhagic
Fever Reference and Research, Rotterdam (since 1995); Member of
the Dutch Health Council (since 1995); Chairman of the European
Scientific Working Group on Influenza (ESWI) (since 2000). He also
holds leading positions in the two commercial companies he co-founded
in The Netherlands: ViroClinics BV and ViroNative BV.
Dr. Osterhaus is a member of numerous professional societies, holds
editorial positions for scientific publications, is the winner of
scientific awards, holds several patents, has been the supervisor
and mentor of more than 30 PhD students, and has held more than
60 consultancy positions. Over the last 20 years, Dr. Osterhaus
has identified more than a dozen “new” viral pathogens
and has authored more than 650 scientific papers.
NOVAFLU: Novel vaccination strategies
and vaccine formulations for epidemic and pandemic influenza control
Dr. Albert Osterhaus
Head Department of Virology at the Erasmus MC
Room Ee 1726, Dr. Molewaterplein 50
NL- 3015GE Rotterdam The Netherlands