Fighting antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" with viruses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the increase in cases of the drug-resistant bacterial infection Shigella could be a predictor of what's to come for other bacteria.

Now, one New York Institute of Technology researcher says the solution to fighting these antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" may come from an unlikely source: viruses.

Microbiologist Bryan Gibb, Ph.D., associate professor of biological and chemical sciences, is investigating the therapeutic abilities of naturally occurring viruses called bacteriophages, or phages for short.

Phages are the most abundant biological form on the planet. These naturally occurring viruses are professional bacterial assassins."

Bryan Gibb, Ph.D., associate professor of biological and chemical sciences

While new treatments are desperately needed, there have been no major novel antibiotic developments since the 1960s. According to Gibb, one reason for this is that pharmaceutical companies stand to profit more from drugs that treat chronic conditions vs. "one-and-done" antibiotics.

"This is why researchers must now look beyond antibiotics and devote more resources to novel treatments-;like bacteriophage therapy," he says.

Gibb notes that while phages are "already working wonders in Eastern Europe," where doctors in countries like the Republic of Georgia have successfully used phage cocktails to treat infections for decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) process for approving pharmaceuticals is not equipped to deal with bacterial agents like phages.

"They evolve quickly-;just like the mutating bacteria they fight, giving them a major edge over antibiotics-;but their flexible nature also makes phages difficult to evaluate in a traditional clinical trial setting," says Gibb.

To overcome this obstacle, he recommends a separate FDA approval track for phage therapy.

"It's time for the government to realize the best way to defeat killer bacteria may be to give people harmless viruses," he says.

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