University of Nottingham experts have joined forces with Canadian biotech company GangaGen Life Sciences Inc to develop new weapons in the fight against food poisoning.
They are engaging in a major research project to develop methods for the control of Campylobacter — the commonest cause of infectious bacterial intestinal disease in England and Wales, according to the Health Protection Agency. Campylobacters are found in poultry and other animals and cause millions of cases of food poisoning worldwide.
The researchers intend to develop bacteriophage-based treatments for the control of Campylobacter.
Bacteriophages — the term literally means 'bacterium-eater' — are naturally occurring agents that target and destroy bacteria with a high degree of efficiency, and do so selectively and specifically, without affecting beneficial bacteria or gut cells. The term is commonly used in its shortened form, phage.
Both GangaGen and The University of Nottingham are leaders in bacteriophage research and view the technology as a vital breakthrough in the control of bacterial contamination and associated health risks. The research agreement, announced today [May 22], will mean they pool their resources for at least three years to develop new treatments.
Ian Connerton, Northern Foods Professor of Food Safety at The University of Nottingham, said: "We are excited to be working with a company like GangaGen that is at the forefront of phage technology development.
"Our team's research has demonstrated that certain phages specific for Campylobacter can significantly reduce the load of the bacteria carried by poultry. By implication, this should also reduce the risk to consumers by decreasing bacterial contamination of meat that is prevalent in poultry processing and is transferred to chicken meat on grocery shelves."
GangaGen and The University of Nottingham are building a business relationship to commercialise phage technology which has been developed at the University to complement the existing phage expertise of GangaGen. This is part of the University's programme to transfer technology from academia into the commercial world.
Campylobacter infection is typically characterised by severe diarrhoea and abdominal pain, stomach cramps, fever and vomiting. Undercooked meat, particularly poultry, is often associated with the illness, and it is impossible to tell from its appearance whether it is contaminated — as it looks, tastes and smells normal.
GangaGen is a developer of therapeutics based on phage technology for the control of disease-causing bacteria. The company is developing a portfolio of products for the effective treatment of infectious disease in human and animal health. Its animal health program includes innovations for the control of food-safety hazards associated with the transfer of pathogenic bacteria from animal production to consumers.
The work on a phage product for the control of Campylobacter will complement GangaGen's food safety product portfolio, which also includes phage products against Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.
Dr Rainer Engelhardt, Chief Executive of GangaGen Life Sciences Inc, said: "GangaGen believes that the place to start fighting food safety-related bacteria is at the farm where livestock production takes place, and this research agreement with The University of Nottingham allows us to continue building on that belief.
"The food industry and its regulators have stated that they believe that timely intervention is needed at the farm level to supplement the extensive, but not fully effective, controls already in place in food processing. GangaGen has demonstrated in production animal trials that we can isolate and use phages with full regard for safety, and that are benign to animals, humans and the environment.
"This research agreement is of great importance to the health market in general. The combination of these two research teams provides strong impetus for creating a safe, effective and low-cost solution to this pernicious consumer health risk."
Food-safety authorities in Europe and in North America recently released data showing that the contamination hazard due to Campylobacter remains high, and may be increasing because the pathogen has also started to demonstrate resistance to several common antibiotics.