Capsid and Tail

a weekly phage periodical
Issue 13: Breaking down phage patentability
January 17, 2019

Breaking down phage patentability

You may have heard through the grapevine that “phages can’t be patented”, but several phage patents exist, and biotech and pharma are investing in phage-based therapeutics. What’s the deal?

This week, we’re starting a multi-part issue on what the issues and possible solutions are when it comes to patenting phage therapeutics. To begin, we’re delving into a paper by Kelly Todd, Duke University School of Law J.D. / M.A. student.

What's New

Our opinion piece, A Bright Outlook for Bacteriophage Applications, is featured in the Microbiome Times January 2019 edition (page 34).

Phage IndustryOpinion

Bioharmony Therapeutics and Boehringer Ingelheim just announced a collaboration to develop Acinetobacter baumannii lysin therapeutics.


Phages for Global Health reached their 2018 fundraising goal, meaning they can deliver TWO phage workshops in 2019! Congratulations! And thanks to everyone who supports this one-of-a-kind phage nonprofit! Donate or sign up for their newsletter here—the more they raise, the more people they can train to be phage scientists.

NonprofitPhage Applications
ResearchPhage BiologyGut

Want to win one of 50 free copies of The Perfect Predator, the true story of how a global village saved the life of Tom Patterson with IV phage therapy? Sign up for the book giveaway on by Jan 23. Note: you need to view it from a laptop, not a phone.


Latest Jobs

Evelien Adriaenssens of the Quadram Institute Bioscience in Norwich (UK) is looking for a phage enthusiast to join her group. The work will be focused on developing a protocol for isolation of novel gut bacteriophages, in combination with bioinformatic studies of gut viral communities. Apply by Feb 13, 2019.


Edze Westra of the University of Exeter is hiring a postdoctoral researcher that will focus on understanding the benefits and evolutionary stability of phage communication systems. The project will involve collaboration with Rotem Sorek, Angus Buckling, Kai Papenfort and Sylvain Gandon. Apply by Jan 31, 2019.


José R. Penadés of the University of Glasgow is hiring a postdoctoral researcher to investigate whether phage-mediated lateral transduction, a recently-described phenomenon, is widespread in nature. Apply by emailing [email protected] by April 20, 2019.


Mike Barer and Martha Clokie of the University of Leicester are hiring a PhD student researcher to study the detection of pathogen-specific bacteriophages in face-mask samples to distinguish colonisation from infection in exacerbations of chronic lung disease. Apply by Jan 20, 2019.

PhD Project

The Institute of Bio- and Geosciences – Biotechnology (IBG-1) of the Forschungszentrum, located between the cities of Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Aachen, Germany, is hiring a postdoctoral researcher in bioinformatics and (pro)phage genomics. Apply by Feb 12, 2019.


Community Board

Have a question or request for the phage community? Post it here and reach > 200 phage enthusiasts spanning academia, industry, medicine, and beyond. Feel free to be creative about what you might ask! (e.g. collaborations, advice, seeking opportunities). Find the week’s new requests here in Capsid & Tail, or find a list of all active requests here.

Seeking PhD opportunity

Name: Silviane Miruka
I am a student seeking a PhD opportunity in a phage lab. I recently did a project for my master’s thesis titled “Molecular Detection of Pathogenic Staphylococcus aureus Using Phage Based Genetic Markers.” Please email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @m_silviane if you know of any opportunities.

Community PhD Project

Seeking PhD opportunity

Name: Mahmuda Akter
I have been working at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) and earned my M.S. degree from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. I was awarded joint funding from icddr,b and SIDA to isolate and characterize Shigella phages. I have isolated more than 100 Shigella phages, characterized their host ranges and sequenced some of these in collaboration with Martha Clokie and Nathan Brown. I have 10 publications as a co-author and have shared my data at two international meetings: VoM (2012) and Evergreen (2015). Please email me at [email protected] if you know of opportunities.

Community PhD Project

Breaking down phage patentability

You may have heard through the grapevine that “phages can’t be patented”, and yet, several phage patents exist, and biotech and pharma are starting to invest in phage-based therapeutics. What’s the deal?

This week, we’re starting a multi-part issue on what the issues and possible solutions are when it comes to patenting phage therapeutics. To begin, we’re delving into a paper by Kelly Todd, Duke University School of Law J.D. / M.A.

Why are patents so important?

It costs BILLIONS and YEARS to make a drug. Often, the drug won’t even work. Why would anyone get into this business? Enter patents.

  • Patents have historically allowed companies to recoup the costs of making a drug by giving the company a monopoly (for a while) so they can set their price and not worry about competitors.
  • Put another way, patents are a way to incentivize HUGE investments into something by providing companies who make these investments with a fighting chance that they’ll get their money back (and make money).

Bottom line: patents protect risky INVESTMENTS

Phage therapy development needs special consideration

Developing any drug is expensive and risky. But phage therapies face an even steeper uphill battle than other drugs face. Why? Here are two reasons:

  • A big reason drug development is expensive is because clinical trials are expensive, in part because they take so long. First, phages evolve over time making them tricky to work with. What’s more, to show they work, you have to test them on a very specific patient group. Finding this patient group depends on sophisticated bacterial diagnostics, but quick/cheap ones don’t really exist. So clinical trials that deal with phages will likely be slower and thus more expensive than regular clinical trials.
  • Phages count as antimicrobials, which people aren’t accustomed to paying much for, and which people don’t typically take for very long.

Bottom line: phage therapy development will probably cost even more than regular drugs, and these costs will likely be harder to recoup.

Phage patentability called into question

So if patents protect risky investments, and phages are extra-risky, it could be said that phage therapies are even MORE in need of patent protection than other drugs.

However, the patentability of phage therapies has been called into question. Several patents in the same category as phages have actually failed to hold up in court. This suggests that even if companies can find ways to successfully file phage patents, these patents may end up being worthless.

So phages may need protection in other ways.

Next week, we’ll continue this discussion, and talk about some possible alternative ways of incentivizing phage development. If you can’t wait until then, read Duke University School of Law J.D. student Kelly Todd’s article on phage patentability here.

Kelly Todd, The Promising Viral Threat to Bacterial Resistance: The Uncertain Patentability of Phage Therapeutics and the Necessity of Alternative Incentives, 68 Duke Law Journal 767-805 (2019)
Available at:

Thanks for reading!
– Jessica <>={

Jessica Sacher is a co-founder of Phage Directory and has a Ph.D in Microbiology and Biotechnology

For every issue of Capsid & Tail, we are committed to getting our facts straight, but we’re not experts in the information we’re bringing to you. If you feel that we’ve missed an important viewpoint, or if you have something to add, please reach out to us by emailing [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you, and we’d be happy to revisit topics we’ve covered (ideally with added information and viewpoints from community members like you!).

Lastly, please reach out if you’re interested in writing for us, or have suggestions for future issues!