July 7, 2023
WIMR welcomes the announcement that NSW Government has committed $3.5 million over two years to urgently address the global manufacturing bottleneck in delivering phage therapy.
This funding will significantly increase access to life-saving therapy for patients who have hard-to-treat bacterial infections, including antimicrobial resistance (AMR), sepsis and prosthetic infections.
Phage Australia, led from WIMR and involving teams across the Westmead Health Precinct, is the world’s first fully integrated and nationally networked phage therapeutics service, which is now being replicated globally. This service is leading the world’s first national open label clinical trial for administering and monitoring phage therapy. The clinical trial protocol was published in 2022 and is now considered a global benchmark.
Professor Jon Iredell is the founder and Director of Phage Australia and a Senior Staff Specialist, Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Westmead Hospital. He is also the Director of WIMR’s Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology.
Professor Iredell has treated many patients with phage therapy on a compassionate basis, reducing hospital stays in ICU, preventing amputations and saving lives.
“Phage Australia opened its new clinical trial in January 2022 to treat patients around Australia. We are thrilled to have treated 30 patients in total but have had to restrict recruitment due to the limited access to high-quality phage preparations,” Professor Iredell said.
“This funding will increase local manufacturing capability at the Westmead Health Precinct, which until now has been able to treat only one patient per month.
“Phage Australia, and in particular, our collaborators on the Westmead Health Precinct – Western Sydney Local Health District, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and The University of Sydney – are grateful that the life-saving potential of phage therapy has been accelerated in this way.”
Minister for Medical Research, David Harris said, “NSW is a world leader in the development of phage therapy however, we know there is a global manufacturing bottleneck due to the very few facilities worldwide that can manufacture high-quality phage products. This is severely limiting supply which impacts the delivery of this treatment.”
“This significant investment will allow NSW experts to increase manufacturing capabilities right here at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) and bypass the international issues that are slowing down access.
“This is a win for patients and a boost for our local clinical research bodies,” he said.
NSW Health Minister, Ryan Park said the investment will help drive innovation in the development of phage therapies.
“Phage therapies are an exciting field of medicine and could be the answer to the rapidly growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases,” Mr Park said.
“We know that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats facing global health systems and can lead to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.”
What is phage therapy?
Professor Jon Iredell says, “Antimicrobial resistance is a huge threat to our health system. Without effective treatment against infections, doctors wouldn’t be able to perform life-saving treatments such as transplants and cancer therapy.”
Phages are viruses that selectively ‘eat’ bacteria, but don’t harm people. They were used as a treatment option up until a century ago, when new antibiotic treatments became readily available.
To deliver an effective phage treatment, the exact characteristics of the bacterial infection affecting an individual are carefully analysed. These are then matched to a pre-existing ‘library’ of phages to find the one that best corresponds. A bespoke treatment is then prepared specifically for the individual – a highly targeted phage recipe.
Phage therapies have been proven to work and have cured infections and saved the lives of a number of patients in Australia.
Professor Iredell says, “Phages are everywhere in nature and there is more than a century of safety data, but they have been difficult to harness for treatment.
“Now is the time to be finding safe treatments for serious infections. Phage therapy is both our last resort for antibiotic resistance now and our best hope for the future.
“I’m optimistic that, with the help of funding like this, we will be able to prescribe phages within the decade.”
Read more about this funding here: https://tinyurl.com/NSW-Health-news
About Phage Australia – phageaustralia.org
Phage Australia is a network of phage researchers and clinician scientists aiming to professionalise phage therapy as a major intervention for infectious diseases, after vaccines and antibiotics.
Phage Australia is building a national ecosystem that integrates phage biobanking, rapid phage diagnostics, phage manufacturing, and an adaptive clinical trial framework that fits the context of personalised phage therapy.