Introducing Yesterday's Phage Therapy in Today's Medicine

Jean-Paul Pirnay; Gilbert Verbeken; Thomas Rose; Serge Jennes; Martin Zizi; Isabelle Huys; Rob Lavigne; Maia Merabishvili; Mario Vaneechoutte; Angus Buckling; Daniel De Vos


Future Virology. 2012;7(4):379-390. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The worldwide emergence of 'superbugs' and a dry antibiotic pipeline threaten modern society with a return to the preantibiotic era. Phages – the viruses of bacteria – could help fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Phage therapy was first attempted in 1919 by Felix d'Herelle and was commercially developed in the 1930s before being replaced by antibiotics in most of the western world. The current antibiotic crisis fueled a worldwide renaissance of phage therapy. The inherent potential of phages as natural biological bacterium controllers can only be put to use if the potential of the coevolutionary aspect of the couplet phage–bacterium is fully acknowledged and understood, including potential negative consequences. We must learn from past mistakes and set up credible studies to gather the urgently required data with regard to the efficacy of phage therapy and the evolutionary consequences of its (unlimited) use. Unfortunately, our current pharmaceutical economic model, implying costly and time-consuming medicinal product development and marketing, and requiring strong intellectual property protection, is not compatible with traditional sustainable phage therapy. A specific framework with realistic production and documentation requirements, which allows a timely (rapid) supply of safe, tailor-made, natural bacteriophages to patients, should be developed. Ultimately, economic models should be radically reshaped to cater for more sustainable approaches such as phage therapy. This is one of the biggest challenges faced by modern medicine and society as a whole.


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