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New research demonstrates safety of phage therapy in patients

21 February 2020
A step forward in searching for an alternative to antibiotics
Researchers are looking into the potential of phage therapy to combat antibiotic resistance, with recent work suggesting there are no adverse reactions when given to patients with blood infections.

New research has demonstrated the safety of bacteriophage therapy in treating severe Staphylococcus aureus infections in the blood.

The findings, published in Nature Microbiology area step forward in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Bacteriophages or ‘phages’ are viruses that selectively attack bacteria. Bacteriophage therapy, or ‘phage therapy’ for short has been used therapeutically in the past to treat bacterial infections but never in a controlled trial setting. The use of bacteriophage therapy was largely replaced when antibiotics became widely available.

Phage therapy is when a preparation containing bacteriophages tailored to target a certain bacteria are administered to patients.  

As bacterial infections are growing increasingly resistant to current antibiotic treatments, researchers are now revisiting the potential of phage therapy as a form of treatment.

Lead researcher on the study, Professor Jon Iredell from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) and the University of Sydney said, “Antibiotic resistance is a rapidly emerging threat to global health. Because of this, phage therapy is experiencing a renaissance.”

“We know that phage therapy has the potential to treat infections, but evidence of its safety and effectiveness, particularly from clinical trials, is currently limited.

“Our study investigated whether phage therapy is safe in treating severe Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia.”

Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia occurs when the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria enters the bloodstream. This can lead to life-threatening conditions, including infective endocarditis (an infection of the heart) and sepsis (a severe immune response to infection).

In the study, the research team administered phage therapy intravenously to 13 patients who had severe Staphylococcus aureus infections. The patients also received treatment with antibiotics at the same time.

Professor Iredell said, “Our patients did not show any signs of adverse reaction from the phage therapy. “

“Importantly, our phage was produced under Goods Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which ensure the quality of therapeutic products.

“This is the first time that research has been able to show that IV-administered phage therapy, produced under GMP conditions is safe and well-tolerated in people with severe Staphylococcus aureus infections.”

Rates of antibiotic resistance are increasing worldwide, making it harder to treat common infections, such as urinary tract infections, and certain sexually transmissible infections.

“If we can’t combat this threat, we may reach a point where infections that were previously simple to treat will become untreatable,” Professor Iredell said.

“Antibiotic resistance is a huge threat to our health system – we wouldn’t be able to perform certain life-saving treatments, such as transplantation and cancer therapy, without effective treatment against infections.

“More evidence in support of phage is still needed before it’s offered to patients on a larger scale.

“However, our study makes it clear that it could, potentially, offer a safe treatment for serious infections, and help reduce the impact of antibiotic resistance,” he concluded.

The research, led by Professor Jon Iredell was a collaboration between the University of Sydney, the Westmead Institute of Medical Research and the University of New South Wales. 


Declaration: No personal financial interest was received by the researchers. A provisional patent has been filed in the United States and selected authors are listed among the inventors. ABPH is the sole proprietary owner of AB-SA01. Professor Iredell has previously acted as a clinical advisor to C3J Therapeutics. C3J Therapeutics and ABPH announced a merger on 4 January 2019 to become Armata Pharmaceuticals. For full details refer to the paper.       

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