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March 17, 2013

IN LIGHT OF MY EARLIER POST ON PHAGES, reader Joan Kureczka emails:

There are better things than phages in development. And the first applications for them — in the field of food safety – are likely to hit the market next year.

There are certainly new antibacterial products in development, but they aren’t all the conventional, broad spectrum antibiotics that Megan and Derek Lowe talk about the difficulties of finding. And they shouldn’t be – the antibiotics we’ve known have mostly been things that kill like carpet bombs, harming pathogenic and beneficial organisms alike. The result is more antibiotic resistance and often greater health risks due to removing the beneficial bacteria along with the bad. Recent research, much from Dr. Martin Blaser at NYU, points to the fact that 99% of the bacteria that live in and on our bodies are actually beneficial, and that removing them can cause disease. Even asthma, diabetes, obesity and many others are now being seen to be at least microbially influenced.

So the need is for the idea of precision medicine to make its way from cancer treatment to infectious diseases where possible. Antibacterials that kill only the desired organism and nothing else. Fortunately new molecular diagnostics that can very rapidly identify the offending organism now make that approach possible. Phages can be precise, but have their own limitations as therapeutics. And then there is the problem that many have with the concept of therapeutic viruses – no matter how safety in reality they are.

Well, other highly targeted antibacterials are in development and you will be hearing an increasing amount about them in the coming months we expect.

Take a look at AvidBiotics, a SF Bay Area biotech company (www.avidbiotics.com) and their antibacterial proteins (whose origins came from the idea of phages, but which aren’t phages) that can be designed against specific bacterial strains, where they quickly kill the target organism without damage to other bacteria. The private company, which until its food safety deal last year, was funded by NIH and DOD grants and private, non-VC investment, has already developed such proteins against several strains of E. coli involved in diarrheal disease and food poisoning episodes, as well as Salmonella, C. difficile, Acinetobacter (a problem for the military), and plague. Animal tests have shown the ability of one of these proteins to both prevent and treat E. coli diarrheal disease, and further research show the proteins to be non-toxic and biodegradable. They aren’t good for all infectious disease applications but are especially apt for gastrointestinal diseases, skin and perhaps lung – or in life-threatening situations where they would only be given once to save a patient’s life (repeated administration via blood stream of at least 1st generation proteins would cause an immune response). Oh – and if you are worried that bacteria would just develop resistance to these agents too, that could be much less of an issue because the mechanism by which pathogens might become resistant to the proteins would also make the bacteria non-pathogenic.

Like I said, faster, please.

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