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Horses that infect bacteria and cause increased production of proteins that disrupt the repair genes and enhance the affects of traditional antibiotics. (A picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a link to an animated demonstration of how the phages work.)
The most notorious of several resistant bugs, called MRSA, infected some 94,000 Americans and killed about 19,000 people in the U.S. in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infections occurred mostly in hospitals.
“Given the growing prevalence of antibiotic resistance,” Collins says, “we are in substantial need for new means to go after these bugs.”
Novophage is in the early stages of developing a strategy for commercializing the engineered viruses developed by Lu, Collins, and others. The founders of the startup are now working the local business plan circuit—including the BU $50K Business Plan Competition, the Harvard Business School Business Plan Contest, and the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Novophage hasn’t begun to make its pitch to venture investors, Lu says, but he believes that the science has advanced to a point where the founders are ready to begin such discussions.
The founders were encouraged by the results of their recently published mouse study, in which they tested their phages in combination with three classes of antibiotics known as quinolones, beta-lactams, and aminoglyclosides. Eighty percent of infected mice were cured when receiving antibiotics and the engineered phages, compared with only 20 percent that survived after taking antibiotics alone. (Lu, who earned his doctorate in bioengineering from MIT, won the 2008 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for his research of engineered phages that can attack bacterial films that form around implantable medical devices and can cause infections.)
The idea of using phages to treat infections is not new. Intralytix, a Baltimore-based biotech firm developing phages harvested from natural sources, says that phages were first used to treat infections in the early 1900s. However, the Novophage founders believe their engineered phages will be more potent than natural phages.
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