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Home » Antimicrobial Resistance » Does nature hold the key to a future free of AMR?

David Browning

Chief Executive Officer, Fixed Phage

The power of natural viruses in fighting harmful bacteria in humans and animals can finally be harnessed thanks to new technological advances.

Phages have been around for billions of years – well before humans first stepped on the earth – and they are everywhere. On each of your hands there are trillions of these microscopic entities, keeping the bacteria on skin in balance.

In the human body, phages outnumber bacteria by 10 to one. They are vital in preserving a healthy ecosystem and every two days, half of the bacteria on the planet are killed by phages.

If a bacterial infection occurs, a phage treatment can target a bacterial strain, repeatedly attacking it until the body’s natural defences take over, to remove the bacteria. Such specificity to a particular microbe, coupled with their abundant supply in nature, has led scientists to explore whether phages will be an alternative to antibiotic drugs.

On each of your hands there are trillions of these microscopic entities, keeping the bacteria on skin in balance.

Stability concerns addressed

Phages were first discovered in 1915 and today, are primarily used in non-therapeutic applications, including reducing food waste and improving animal health – also key areas of focus for Fixed Phage. However, in human and veterinary medicine, where drugs need to be more extensively trialled, phages have not moved into general use.

David Browning, CEO of phage development company Fixed Phage, explains: “In their natural state phages are very fragile and they can disappear easily.” Fixed Phage is now commercialising technology that irreversibly binds phages to almost any surface. The immobilisation process delivers phages to targeted locations, extending the antibacterial activity of natural phage from days to years. This could pave the way for phage products to arrive on your pharmacy’s shelf.

Alternatives to antibiotics

With so few new antimicrobial drugs in the traditional pharma pipeline, policymakers worldwide have begun to look with interest at the use of alternative therapies. Dr Jason Clark, Chief Scientific Officer at Fixed Phage, says: “Phages are powerful additions to our antibacterial arsenal, either  replacing antibiotics, or being used to extend the lifespan of current/future antibiotics.”

Browning is confident there will be greater use of phage therapy. His view is that the new autonomy that the UK’s regulatory bodies will enjoy will create a more responsive approach to regulatory assessment and approvals for innovative treatments for people and animals.

He says: “The scientific community generally accepts that phage therapy is safe because they are widespread in the environment and are specific for their bacterial target. The piece still to be proven, particularly in humans, is effectiveness. As you can imagine, this is a complex process, but things are certainly picking up pace. People are now actively looking at phage as an exciting alternative to antibiotics.”

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