This page provides information about
- the antibiotic resistance crisis
- the role of the pharmaceutical industry with regard to new antibiotics and
- general information about phages
The information here and the content of the linked media are intentionally kept simple and intended for lay public. More detailed information on phages can be found on the DSMZ’s information page (especially in the literature section). Scientific updates are (for example) available at the “National Forum Phages“. Please note: most of the linked media are in German only.
1. The “antibiotic resistance crisis”
You may already have heard that many bacterial species have become resistant to common antibiotics; some bacterial strains even cannot be fought with reserve antibiotics. This is a consequence of the excessive use of antibiotics in mass livestock farming and uncritical use in humans. There are also great differences in different regions of the world: in some countries antibiotics can even be purchased from street vendors. The consequences are devastating in poorer regions of the world, but in the western hemisphere, too, frightening reports are being published in the daily press – after all, the subject is gradually becoming known.
The resistance problem is so serious that it is now being addressed at the highest political levels: on 21 September 2016, a high-level meeting was held on the subject at the United Nations General Assembly, and the WHO officially claims an “antibiotics crisis” and warns of a “postantibiotic era“. The topic was also on the agenda of the G7 meeting at Schloss Elmau (2015). The final declaration claims:
[The G7] is strengthening basic research, research on epidemiology, and the development of and access to new antimicrobials, alternative therapies, vaccines and rapid point-of-care diagnostics.
Therefore, a variety of new ways of combating bacterial infections are urgently needed, and bacteriophages could be a possible addition to the existing options.
2. The role of the pharmaceutical industry
For decades, infectious diseases had lost their dread and seemed under control. Due to this deceptive safety, research into and development of new antibiotics was slowed down.
There are many theories and different views about the pharmaceutical industry. One point is clear: like every other company, the pharmaceutical industry acts profit-oriented . As a result, new drugs are primarily developed for a large market in rich countries, if possible against chronic diseases where the medicine has to be taken over long periods of time.
In contrast to these economy interests, antibiotics should be used as rarely and briefly as possible. This would apply in particular to newly developed substances in order to counteract the rapid development of resistance to this reserve antibiotic. This market logic also explains the relative lack of interest in the development of new antibiotics. The business magazine brandeins highlights further interesting aspects here and there.
The fact that bacteriophages have not yet been developed as drugs by the pharmaceutical industry is also due to the complicated regulatory conditions and the difficult patent law situation. Due to the overall situation, public funding programmes are increasingly being set up for research into ways of combating bacterial infections. The Phage4Cure project is financed by one of these programmes as well.
3. General information about phages
To make it very simple: bacteriophages are viruses that do not attack humans or animals, but bacteria. They reproduce in these bacteria and thereby destroy them. The idea of using bacteriophages as drugs against bacterial infections has existed for more than 100 years. Accordingly, there are already many good introductory articles and videos which are linked below.
- The Braunschweiger Zeitung provides an elaborate introduction into the therapy with phages including various multimedia elements.
- A lecture of Dr. Sandra Wienhold, research associate in the team of Prof. Witzenrath at Charité, during the “Science Slam” at the “Long Night of Sciences”, Summer 2017:
- There is a half-hour audio feature on this phage report page of the “Südwestrundfunk where some of the scientists of Phage4Cure are being interviewed as well.
- The science journalist Renate Ell has created the radio feature “Bakteriophagen – ein altes Heilmittel wird wiederentdeckt” (Bacteriophage – an old remedy is rediscovered) for the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation, which was awarded a journalistic prize.
- A beautiful animation movie about the “creature” bacteriophage:
- The reproduction cycle of bacteriophages in an animation of DSMZ:
- And of course Wikipedia: Bacteriophages and phage therapy