If bacteriophages attack only bacteria

Fight multi-resistant germs with viruses

Pseudomonas infection in cystic fibrosis

16th Jan 2020

Antibiotic resistance is reaching alarming levels around the world. In the fight against multi-resistant germs, Fraunhofer researchers are now breaking new ground together with partners: They want to eliminate the dangerous bacteria with the help of viruses, so-called bacteriophages. In a first project, a drug for cystic fibrosis patients against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the most common bacterial cause of pneumonia, is to be developed from phages.

Bacteriophages only attack and destroy their special host bacteria. © peterschreiber.media - AdobeStock

Bacterial viruses, also known as bacteriophages or phages, are viruses that invade bacteria and multiply in them. They cause the bacteria to burst and thus render them harmless. The advantage of phages: They only attack their specific host bacteria, so they have no influence on body cells or other bacteria.

Fundamentally, phage therapy is not new; it has been used successfully for decades in the countries of the former Soviet Union. So far, however, there are no approved phage preparations in Germany. This is mainly due to a lack of clinical studies. The current project aims to close this gap. It includes the selection of promising phages, the manufacturing process, pharmaceutical manufacturing, preclinical studies and clinical testing.

The first specific goal is to develop an inhalable cocktail of active ingredients consisting of three bacteriophages against the multi-resistant bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. For example, Pseudomonas is the most common bacterial cause of Pneumonia in cystic fibrosis patients.

To do this, the researchers first collected bacterial samples from Cystic fibrosis-Patients and then identified phages that are able to dissolve these bacterial populations. During the screening, the scientists were able to identify three phages with the broadest possible host spectrum, which together destroy 70 percent of the samples. The phage cocktail could therefore successfully treat around 70 out of 100 patients.

When antibiotics no longer work: phages as an alternative?

People with cystic fibrosis would initially benefit from the new therapy. However, according to the researchers, this is just the beginning. Her goal is to develop phages as additional therapy for various infectious diseases - especially wherever Antibiotics no longer work.

In view of the antibiotic resistance, phages are moving more and more into the focus of research, especially since the pharmaceutical industry is not developing any new antibiotics. Preclinical research is to start in the spring.


Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft: New active ingredients against multi-resistant germs. Press release from January 2nd, 2020