Work in England to develop bacteriophages to tackle disease has received funding support.

The £800,000 ($975,000) grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will help advance the production of phages to combat disease in the veterinary field and bring them to market.

Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria. They naturally occur in the environment and could offer an alternative to antibiotics in some situations.

Professor Martha Clokie, director of the Leicester Centre of Phage Research, and Dr. Anisha Thanki, will work on the two-year project that begins early next year with Dr. Robert Atterbury, from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Earlier this year, Thanki developed a bacteriophage liquid product to prevent Salmonella in broiler chickens. This will be used as a case study to advance how phages can safely be produced on larger scales to meet UK guidelines.

“We know that developing bacteriophages will help counter growing resistance to existing antimicrobials. If a product such as this was eventually commercialized, it could save the farming industry billions of pounds each year while preventing Salmonella from entering our food chain,” she said.

“However, we currently have an effective product but no known way to bring it into wider commercial use. Our work is so novel that protocols and regulations don’t yet exist to allow that to happen. We’re very excited that this funding will allow us to translate this work to establish how to use phages effectively at a much larger scale and within UK regulation guidelines. Once we do this, we aim for a successful blueprint to bring other effective phage products to the commercial market.”

Regulation and work so far
In Europe, there is no regulation on using phages in the food industry, so it is unclear if they would be classed as decontaminants, additives, or processing aids. Some EU countries allow their limited use under national rules. Certain phage products are approved to prevent pathogens in food in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

There is no standardized authorization process yet for bacteriophage use in the UK.

“We are exploring opportunities to reform the regulated product approval process while maintaining food and feed safety standards. As part of this work, we are considering future reform options that would best fit the UK market, including regulating substances not currently in the scope of the regulated products framework, such as processing aids and pathogen reduction treatments. We will endeavor to maximize the opportunities in reforming Retained EU Law and engage with stakeholders when developing our approach,” said a spokesperson from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Researchers are investigating both feed and water-based delivery systems for phages.

One study has examined whether a phage cocktail delivered in feed can reduce Salmonella colonization in experimentally challenged chickens and determine the optimal dose.

Findings published in the journal Emerging Microbes and Infections showed that delivering phages via feed effectively reduced Salmonella in chickens.

Atterbury said the project will help address some of the key hurdles currently preventing their wider use in sectors such as agrifood.

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the key global public health challenges of the 21st century. Bacteriophages show great promise in treating infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria in animals and people.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here)