What are the limitations on the wider therapeutic use of phage?

Bacteriophage. 2013 Apr 1;3(2):e24872. doi: 10.4161/bact.24872.


Bacterial resistance to antibiotics poses a serious health threat. Since research into new antibiotics is not progressing at the same rate as the development of bacterial resistance, widespread calls for alternatives to antibiotics have been made. Phage therapy is an ideal alternative candidate to be investigated. However the success of phage therapy may be hampered by a lack of investment support from large pharmaceutical companies, due to their narrow spectrum of activity in antibiotics, very large costs associated with clinical trials of the variety of phages needed, and regulatory requirements remaining unclear. Intellectual property is difficult to secure for therapeutic phage products for a variety of reasons, and patenting procedures vary widely between the US and the EU. Consequently, companies are more likely to invest in phage products for decontamination or veterinary use, rather than clinical use in humans. Some still raise questions as to the safety of phage therapy overall, suggesting the possibility of cytotoxicity and immunogenicity, depending on the phage preparation and route. On the other hand, with patients dying because of infections untreatable with conventional antibiotics, the question arises as to whether it is ethical not to pursue phage therapy more diligently. A paradigm shift about how phage therapy is perceived is required, as well as more rigorous proof of efficacy in the form of clinical trials of existing medicinal phage products. Phage therapy potential may be fulfilled in the meantime by allowing individual preparations to be used on a named-patient basis, with extensive monitoring and multidisciplinary team input. The National Health Service and academia have a role in carrying out clinical phage research, which would be beneficial to public health, but not necessarily financially rewarding.

Keywords: clinical use; ethics; limitations; paradigm changes; phage therapy; safety.