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Phage therapy for when antibiotics stop working?

On 22 February, 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 on the possibilities of phage therapy in the treatment of patients with infections due to resistant bacteria. Experts from the Netherlands and abroad presented their experiences in research and therapy in relation to bacteriophages in Utrecht.

In the former Soviet Union, after World War II phage therapy was given a role in the regular treatment of infections. This knowledge was subsequently concentrated in the Eliava clinic in Tbilisi (Georgia). Phage therapy is a registered therapy over there, although there is little scientific data available. There are a few studies, but they do not meet the requirements set for scientific research in the Netherlands. UMC Utrecht has started a biobank with bacteriophages with which research is executed. These studies form the preliminary work of clinical studies for which UMC Utrecht is currently preparing.

Professor Marc Bonten of UMC Utrecht: “Due to the growing awareness of and societal demand for treatment with bacteriophages, it is up to the academics to take the initiative and start research. The symposium is a great way to map out all acquired knowledge and to draw up a plan of action. The condition is that the Medical Ethics Review Committee (METC) agrees with the investigation. ”

The one-day symposium was attended by 125 doctors, microbiologists and other researchers, about 20 percent of whom came from abroad. Some of the highlights of the day:

  • Dr. Rob Lavigne from KU Leuven presented research on the use of phage-derived enzymes in agriculture and animal health. Clinical research – in a public-private partnership with industry on treatment of skin infections in dogs is already ongoing.
  • Dr. Stan Brouns from TU Delft (and co-organizer of the symposium) demonstrated research from his laboratory that with use of phage therapy, there is also a potential for bacteria becoming resistant (similar to antibiotics)
  • Dr. Mzia Kutateladze from the Eliava Phage Therapy Center in Tbilisi (Georgia) presented multiple case reports on the success of their phage therapy approaches. Well-controlled clinical trials on efficacy and safety are ongoing.
  • Dr. Jean-Paul Pirnay from the Military Hospital in Brussels showed the experience from Belgium. After early trials with phage therapy had been hampered by regulatory and production issues, pressure from patients, media and politicians resulted in a practical approach that now facilitates further development of phage therapy.
  • Dr. Esmee Ruizendaal from UMC Utrecht elaborated on the protocol of a randomized double-blind cross-over study investigating the clinical efficacy of phage therapy against Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection in cystic fibrosis patients with chronic pneumonia.

More information about bacteriophages (in Dutch)