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Bacteriophages in case antibiotics no longer work?

On 28 May, the RIVM published a report on the current state of knowledge about bacteriophages. The RIVM study was commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport after publications in the media about phage therapy. Since the television broadcast Dokters van Morgen, microbiologist Marc Bonten of the UMC Utrecht is regularly confronted with patients who demand treatment with bacteriophages. “I receive weekly mails from patients who request it, and in one case someone has also demanded such treatment.”

In February of this year, UMC Utrecht (in collaboration with TU Delft and the Netherlands Center for One Health) organized an international symposium for the first time in the Netherlands. The main subject was the possibility of phage therapy in the treatment of patients with infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Experts from home and abroad presented their experiences in research and therapy in relation to bacteriophages in Utrecht.


UMC Utrecht has started a biobank with bacteriophages with which research is being performed. These studies form the preliminary work of patient-related research for which UMC Utrecht is currently preparing.

Patient-related research

In theory, bacteriophages seem to be a good way to combat infections caused by bacteria that are insensitive to the effects of antibiotics. “However, there is still insufficiently clinical evidence available,” the RIVM researchers write, “to know the added value of bacteriophage treatment and to be able to do this safely and for multiple types of infections.”

Marc Bonten is now working with colleagues to set up a clinical trial in which patients will be treated with bacteriophages. However, whether the study can be executed is not certain. “It is still very exciting whether we get permission,” he says. The permit for the research must come from the Central Committee on Human Research (CCMO). “Phage therapy is not authorized medicines, so we can not just use them,” says Bonten. “We are now having the Queen Astrid Hospital in Brussels prepare the phages for the bacterial strains of our patients in their pharmacy, and we’ll get them to the Netherlands, hopefully this will be allowed by the CCMO.” In Belgium this preparation of phages has been approved after four years of debate.”

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