Showdown: bacteria vs. virus

Could bacteriophages solve the antibiotic resistance problem?

Drug developers are starting to revisit bacteriophages as a solution for two of the biggest questions in translational research: how to treat resistant bacterial infections, and how to manipulate the human microbiome. A spate of small companies is leading the way, using new technology to resuscitate a dormant modality.

Bacteriophages were largely abandoned by the industry decades ago in favor of broadly acting small molecule antibiotics. The agents, also known as "phages," are viruses that infect and destroy bacteria, acting as natural predators for the microbes.

Unlike small molecule antibiotics, which target broad classes of bacteria, each phage is highly specific for an individual species or even strain of bacteria.

But small molecule antibiotics supplanted phages in the middle of the last century because their broad-spectrum activity was seen as a major advantage, and limitations on diagnostic technologies made it hard to match a phage to a specific infection. Moreover, small molecules had much easier CMC.

"With the modern era of antibiotics, we had drugs with a broader spectrum of activity that could be manufactured and transported pretty easily, so phage therapy fell by the wayside, especially in the West," said Jeffrey Wagner, chairman and CEO of EnBiotix Inc.

EnBiotix is one of a crop of companies that recently raised money or moved into the space. The company raised an undisclosed series A round last year, joining newco EpiBiome Inc., a graduate of Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS incubator that raised $6 million in a series A round last year and subsequent undisclosed additional funding. Intralytix Inc., which initially focused on non-therapeutic applications, announced a deal with Ferring Pharmaceuticals A/S to develop phage-based therapies in 2015.

One public company, AmpliPhi

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