Press release written by Stephanie Lesage.
Antimicrobial resistance has been deemed human health’s next biggest challenge by the World Health Organisation. Infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat with antibiotics, which is resulting in prolonged hospital stays, increased morbidity, is leading to over 25,000 deaths in Europe alone and costing billions to healthcare systems each year.
The most promising alternative to antibiotics has been around for as long as bacteria have been on the planet: the human body counts trillions of bacteriophage viruses which are nature’s most efficient weapons against bacteria. Discovered in 1919 and used in Eastern Europe ever since, western countries have much more recently regained interest in this form of therapy, lost following the adoption of easy-fix antibiotics.
A recent initiative in the UK is striving to ensure bacteriophage therapy starts receiving the attention it deserves, so the UK is ready when antibiotics no longer provide protection against deadly bacteria. Aiming to follow the iPATH in California, the budding project has recently gathered a small group of bacteriophage and antimicrobial resistance experts from the UK, to explore the possibility of setting up a national centre for bacteriophage research and GMP production.
Among the ideas, the national UK bacteriophage centre would collaborate with academia and industry, to gather a national library of bacteriophages, enabling a centralised and faster identification and provision of targeted cocktails of bacteriophages for patients (personalised medicine). The centre could also host and train academic and industry researchers, collaborate on national and international projects, and would aim to become UK’s main GMP production facility for bacteriophages, to provide bacteriophages for clinical trials and ultimately the treatment of specific indications. Similarly to the centre of excellence for Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult established in 2012, the centre would aim to become the focal point of translation of bacteriophage therapy into the UK clinics.
Whilst home to world-leading academic groups working on bacteriophages for clinical applications (including Professor Martha Clokie, Leister), the UK so far has been slow to bring this therapy to patients. There is no doubt that bacteriophages will be a part of future healthcare, and the UK needs the facilities and capabilities readily available to provide this alternative antibiotic therapy. The Covid19 pandemic has been a great example of a lack of preparation. Antimicrobial resistance is already more than a threat, and the consequences will be 5 times worse than the Covid pandemic if the UK is not prepared.
In the words of Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director-General of the World Health Organisation: “If the world fails to mount a more serious effort to fight infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance will increasingly threaten to send the world back to a pre-antibiotic age. Our grandparents lived in an era without effective antibiotics. We don’t want the same for our grandchildren.”
We are looking to get in touch with UK-based clinicians, academics, and industrials who are working on or interested in bacteriophage therapy and would like to help shape and support this ambitious project.
Please reach out to: