Scientists are investigating a type of "good" virus that infects and kills many types of harmful bacteria as a part of their fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, such as MRSA.
They have developed a cream containing the viruses, known as bacteriophages, to eliminate hospital-acquired infections. The product may be available in the markets within three years.
AdvertisementSteps are being taken to develop similar treatments for bacterial ear infections and food poisoning, which are triggered by the most stubbornly resistant bugs.
The West has neglected the viruses for more than six decades, despite the fact that they have been used in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to treat infections since the 1920s.
It is now being re-examined whether phage therapies, previously considered to have been superceded by antibiotics, can curb overuse of the drugs.
The scientists are planning to conduct clinical trials of the proposed cream next year, after laboratory tests in which phages have wiped out more than 15 strains of the superbug.
The anti-MRSA cream could be applied to the inside of the nose, where bacteria are known to thrive. It is likely to contain a "cocktail" of three or four types of virus so that it is difficult for the bugs to build up resistance to it.
Nick Housby, Chief Executive of the Coventry-based biotech company Novolytics that is carrying out the research, said that the aim was to use the phage cream as a preventative measure that could be given to staff and patients a day or two before they went into hospital.
He also said that the cream could eliminate infections in affected patients within 24 hours.
"We're extremely optimistic. We know we can kill, in the laboratory, clinically relevant strains. It's a question now of putting it into the right cream, in terms of the formulation, to make sure that it works," Timesonline quoted him as saying.
With virus therapy now returning to the West, more than 12 companies are developing phage products.
"We're now finding antibiotics are becoming less useful. The climate is probably right to revisit bacteriophage therapy," Geoff Hanlon, an expert in the viruses at the University of Brighton, said.
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