Now an exciting new collaboration between the University of Leicester, the University of Glasgow and AmpliPhi Biosciences Corporation could lead to the use of bacteriophages for treating the superbug
Dr Martha Clokie, from the University of Leicester's Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation has been investigating an alternative approach to antibiotics, which utilizes naturally occurring viruses called bacteriophages, meaning 'eaters of bacteria'.
The work has predominantly been funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC).
Dr Clokie said: "Ever since the discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, antibiotics have been heralded as the 'silver bullets' of medicine. They have saved countless lives and impacted on the well-being of humanity.
"But less than a century following their discovery, the future impact of antibiotics is dwindling at a pace that no one anticipated, with more and more bacteria out-smarting and 'out-evolving' these miracle drugs. This has re-energised the search for new treatments.
"One alternative to antibiotics is bacteriophages, known as phages, which unlike antibiotics, are specific in what they kill and will generally only infect one particular species, or even strain, of bacteria - referred to as the 'host'. Following attachment to their hosts, they inject their DNA into the bacterium, which then replicates many times over, ultimately causing the bacterial cell to burst open. The phages released from the dead bacterium can then infect other host cells."
Dr. Clokie and her team have achieved the remarkable feat of isolating and characterising the largest known set of distinct C. diff
phages that infect clinically relevant strains of C. diff
. Of these, a specific mixture of phages have been proved, through extensive laboratory testing, to be effective against 90% of the most clinically relevant C. diff
strains currently seen in the U.K.
As a testament to their therapeutic potential, these phages, that are the subject of a patent application, have been licensed by AmpliPhi Biosciences Corporation - a US-based biopharmaceutical company and pioneers in developing phage-based therapeutics. AmpliPhi have already made progress in developing phages targeted against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen that causes acute, life-threatening lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients. They were also the first biopharmaceutical company to demonstrate the effectiveness of Pseudomonas phages in controlled and regulated human clinical trials.
As part of this exciting collaboration, AmpliPhi are funding further development and testing of C. diff
phages developed by Dr. Clokie. The goal is to have a phage mixture ready to go into phase 1 and 2 clinical trials. This will involve optimising phage-preparations for maximum efficacy against C. diff
infections from around the globe and establishing production, storage and delivery systems for the phage mixture. Evaluations of the efficacy of bacteriophage therapy and optimisation of dosing regimes will be carried out in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, in the laboratory of Dr Gill Douce.