Major funding boost for phage therapy

Photo of NSW Government funding boost announcement for phage therapy.

Patients with difficult-to-treat bacterial infections across NSW will soon have better access to limb and life-saving therapy known as phage therapy. 

A $3.5 million funding boost announced by the NSW Government will help urgently address an ongoing global manufacturing bottleneck in delivering phage therapy.

Bacteriophages or ‘phages’ are viruses that selectively infect bacteria and can kill them. Phages were first discovered over a century ago but due to the introduction of and focus on antibiotic treatments, robust research and development into phage therapy was disregarded.  

With increasing concern of resistant bacteria worldwide, phage therapy research is offering new hope as an alternative or addition to traditional antibiotics for the treatment of infections.

Dr Ameneh Khatami is a Clinical Academic in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) and Deputy Director of Phage Australia, where a team of specialists is working together to rapidly translate phage therapeutics into clinical practice. She said these therapies have been successfully used to treat patients where traditional antibiotics have been ineffective.  

“The funding boost will increase capacity to produce high-quality, safe, therapeutic phage products locally via the Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR), making them faster and easier to access. This means we will be able to provide these therapies for many more children with serious bacterial infections than we could in the past,” Dr Khatami said. 

The new funding means phages will be able to be developed locally, enabling WIMR to double current capacity and begin to address the growing demand from around Australia and from overseas for NSW-manufactured phage therapies. 

“It will also build local capacity for the future with a trained workforce and a growing bank of therapeutic phages that we can access in an ongoing manner," Dr Khatami said.

For patients like 15-year-old Rebecca who lives with Cystic Fibrosis and contracted a germ called Mycobacterium Abscessus at the age of eight, leaving her unable to maintain her weight and causing her lung function to significantly decline, phage therapy can be game-changing. 

Photo of 15-year-old Rebecca and healthcare worker.
After the germ had lingered with Rebecca for five years, resisting treatment after treatment, Clinical Professor Dr Paul Robinson, Respiratory Medicine at CHW, suggested phages. The phages were sent to CHW from America and injected into Rebecca daily for almost a year.

Her first test results showed an improvement, and each test result was better and better, until there was no more Mycobacterium Abscessus. Rebecca became one of the first in Australia to be successfully treated with phage therapy. 

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.” 

Phage Australia are a national consortium and world leaders in the development and manufacture of phage therapy. Key NSW members include Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, Western Sydney Local Health Districtand the University of Sydney. 

Since Phage Australia opened a new clinical trial to treat patients around Australia last year, it has provided treatment to 30 patients.