Background

We are facing a global antibiotic resistance crisis and we need additional or alternative ways to treat patients unable to fight against bacterial infections. Phage therapy is an increasingly viable and scientifically-accepted alternative to antibiotics.

Researchers around the world routinely cultivate phages against most bacterial pathogens faced by patients. However, safely and effectively giving these phages to critically ill patients is challenging — each phage treatment must be customized to each patient’s infection. This process requires a complex collaboration between scientists, doctors, regulatory bodies and families of patients on extremely short notice.

By building and maintaining a free, open-source, public directory of researchers willing and able to provide, test and/or mass-produce phages in response to critically ill patients’ needs, we can connect patients with potentially life-saving cures to otherwise untreatable drug-resistant infections.

— Jess & Jan <>=Σ

Natural-Born Bacteria Killers

“Our time with antibiotics is running out”
World Antibiotics Awareness Week, WHO

Our first line of defense in fighting bacterial disease — antibiotics — is starting to fail, and hundreds of thousands of people are dying each year as a result of previously treatable, now drug-resistant infections.

If we don't act now, superbugs will kill us
before climate change does
Wired.co.uk — Nov 6, 2017

An ancient but emerging strategy to fight drug-resistant bacteria is to attack them with their natural predators: bacteriophages (or “phages” for short).

“Phages are viruses that
only kill bacteria”

Phages are viruses that only kill bacteria that can be found in soil, water, sewage, and just about anywhere else bacteria are found. For decades, scientists have been studying how phages kill bacteria, which ones kill which, and how we can cultivate large numbers of phages in order to use them against infectious bacteria in actual patients.

Personalized Care

Although phage therapy is primarily done on a case-by-case basis involving patients who are out of other options, it has been done successfully in this way for years through centers like the Eliava Phage Therapy Center in Tblisi, Georgia. However, most phage research labs are not in the business of preparing patient-ready phages, and the list of associated challenges makes it easy to see why.

Mail-Order Viruses Are The New Antibiotics
Buzzfeed News — Feb 2, 2015

In phage therapy, no two patients are alike: patients' samples must be tested against phages to see which phages will work. Once a phage shows promise in killing a patient’s bacterial strain in the lab, researchers must mass-produce, purify and confirm it to be safe. Patients must then get emergency FDA approval, then receive the phages in the mail before treatment can begin.

All of this must happen after a patient qualifies for phage treatment (when there are no other options left) and before losing their life to the disease.

Recent Successes and Failures

Even with these challenges, phage therapy can work.

In 2016, a San Diego man, Dr. Tom Patterson, was cured of a life-threatening multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infection following administration of a set of personalized phage cocktails.

In this remarkable case, phage collection, testing and administration was coordinated by Tom’s wife, Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, with the help of Tom’s doctors, several phage researchers from a handful of US labs and the US Navy.

Dr. Strathdee has since pioneered an effort to obtain phages for other critically ill patients by reaching out to phage researchers via Twitter:

Most recently, 25-year-old Mallory Smith was the patient in need. Battling pneumonia caused by antibiotic resistant Burkholderia cepacia, Mallory’s parents contacted Dr. Strathdee for help.

Although the efforts that followed prompted phage researchers to identify and send phages that might help Mallory, her life could not be saved in time. Mallory passed away on November 15th, 2017.

What we need now

Currently, quickly tracking down the right phages on the short notice required is extremely difficult. All search efforts run through twitter, as neither a directory of phage researchers nor a catalogue of phages currently exists.

The goal of Phage Directory is to build and help maintain this missing network in order to facilitate connections between the people who have phages, the people who need phages, and the information each party needs to get phages from lab to patient on a few days’ notice.

Resources