- Title: Phages offers virus alternative to antibiotics
- Date: 29th September 2016
- Summary: TBILISI, GEORGIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF CLINIC STAFF IN LABORATORY, WORKING WITH BACTERIA (SOUNDBITE) (English) NAOMI HOYLE, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS MANAGER, ELIAVA INSTITUTE OF BACTERIOPHAGES, SAYING: "In this case patients really have no other option but we have the option to test specific bacterial phages against the bacteria and offer treatment with that phage." BACTERIOPHAGE MEDICINE (SOUNDBITE) (English) NAOMI HOYLE, MD, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS MANAGER, ELIAVA INSTITUTE OF BACTERIOPHAGES, SAYING: "The number of patients contacting the Eliava phage therapy centre and the Eliava Institute about phage therapy is really increasing. We're getting more patients actually coming to the clinic as well, through partnerships with tourist companies who bring patients who need phage therapy. So, in the last two weeks we've had nine patients, whereas in a year we wouldn't have had that many several years ago." MARC GUILLONNEAU ON HOSPITAL BED (SOUNDBITE) (French) CLAIRE GUILLONNEAU, MOTHER OF MARC, SAYING: "We're very pleased as several symptoms have diminished. His skin was bright red and oozing. Now it's pink and nearly white. Marc can extend his legs whereas before he was all curled up. He couldn't move. And he couldn't eat. But now everything's becoming normal." VARIOUS EXTERIORS OF CLINIC VARIOUS BEAUTY SHOTS OF TBILISI
- Embargoed: 14th October 2016 12:27
- Keywords: Stalin phages bacteriophages bacteria antibiotics Tbilisi Eliava Netherton's Staphylococcus
- Location: TBILISI, GEORGIA / MOSCOW, RUSSIA
- City: TBILISI, GEORGIA / MOSCOW, RUSSIA
- Country: Georgia
- Topics: Science
- Reuters ID: LVA00351MDB95
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: It was developed a century ago, abandoned by the west in the 1940s, and heavily funded behind the 'Iron Curtain' by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Now, phage therapy is undergoing a renaissance, because of its ability to overcome difficult to treat infections, including superbugs that have grown resistant to antibiotics.
Sixteen-year-old Marc Guillonneau (PRON: Gil-lon-oh) has travelled from France with his mother Claire to be infected with naturally occurring viruses called bacteriophages, in an effort to treat infections that result from his chronic Netherton's Syndrome.
Netherton's is a rare, inherited, disorder that affects the skin, hair, and immune system. Marc's condition has resulted in chronic skin inflammation, scaling and exfoliation, predisposing him to life-threatening infections, sepsis, and dehydration.
After he contracted Staphylococcus aureus earlier this year, doctors feared the worst. "They told us six months ago that on two occasions the Staphylococcus had entered the bloodstream," Claire Guillonneau told Reuters. "We knew that we were about to lose him and that to treat him we needed to come to Georgia."
Marc came to the Eliava Institute in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, a leading phage therapy clinic founded in the Georgian capital Tbilisi in 1923 by scientist George Eliava.
According to institute director, Mzia Kutateladze: "After the invention of antibiotics the west forgot about phages. Stalin, who was the head of this huge country, developed this phage research and application as a political alternative to the west to the antibiotics and it developed and the Eliava Institute was the only one (using it) for many many years."
Whereas antibiotics target a wide range of bacteria, individual bacteriophages attack a single strain. Doctors at the Eliava Institute identify bacteriophages in their laboratories and develop each into individual treatments for a range of infections.
If bacteria develops resistance to one phage, the scientists can find another in their library to treat it. The phages' diversity and ability to evolve make it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance to the phage than to antibiotics, which by contrast target all bacteria in the body, rather than targeting the harmful types.
Kutateladze says phages were used primarily by the Soviet army to treat diarrheal diseases suffered by soldiers on deployment in far-off lands.
Eliava's scientific success failed to save him from Stalin's notorious purges, and he was killed in 1937, but his centre continued to thrive until the collapse of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
A combination of the dedication of a small band of Georgian scientists, such as Dr Liane Gachechiladze and financial support from international scientific foundations and private donors kept the institute operational during those difficult days.
The institute's international relations manager is American Dr Naomi Hoyle. Married to Gachechiladze's grandson, Hoyle says patients come from far and wide for treatment at the centre, often in a state of desperation.
"In this case patients really have no other option but we have the option to test specific bacterial phages against the bacteria and offer treatment with that phage," she said.
The centre is seeing a noticeable rise in patient numbers. "The number of patients contacting the Eliava phage therapy centre and the Eliava Institute about phage therapy is really increasing," said Hoyle. "We're getting more patients actually coming to the clinic as well, through partnerships with tourist companies who bring patients who need phage therapy. So, in the last two weeks we've had nine patients, whereas in a year we wouldn't have had that many several years ago."
Claire Guillonneau said Marc's condition is improving, since embarking on phage therapy.
"We're very pleased as several symptoms have diminished," she said. "Marc's skin was bright red and oozing. Now it's pink and nearly white. Marc can extend his legs, whereas before he was all curled up. He couldn't move and he couldn't eat. But now everything's becoming normal."
With health officials warning that the declining efficacy of antibiotics threatens to unleash a post-antibiotic era in which even some minor infections could become fatal, the race is on among scientists to find solutions.
Phages may have a role to play, possibly in the role of minor bacterial infection, allowing antibiotics to be reserved for more serious conditions, and preventing their over-use.
In a report last May on alternatives to overcoming antibiotic resistance, published in the journal Microbiological Research, Victor M. Balcao at University of Minho in Braga, Portugal and colleagues acknowledge that results at the Eliava Institute, and also at the Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, in Warsaw, Poland, have been "remarkable." But, they add, "despite the immense potential of bacteriophages for eradicating infections caused by bacterial-resistant strains, up to now only a few clinical trials have been performed in human beings and are accepted by public health authorities."
Getting approval from regulatory authorities is likely to be a challenge, however. As Callum Cooper at Stockholm University and colleagues pointed out last month in Frontiers in Microbiology, "To date, no whole phage or phage derived products are approved for human therapeutic use in the [European Union] or USA . . . [where] the approval of phages for clinical use is theoretically possible but not economically viable."
The first major multi-centre clinical trial of phage therapy, funded by the European Commission, was launched in July 2015, treating French, Belgian and Swiss burns patients with infections.
The 220-patient clinical trial known as Phagoburn, which has 3.8 million euros ($4.2 million) of EU funding, aims to close the knowledge gap - although any product meeting stringent Western drug standards is unlikely to be ready for approval before 2020.
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