UC San Diego announced Thursday the creation of a unique facility to research treatment options for “superbug” infections impervious to standard antibiotics.
The Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics, IPATH, will focus on bacteriophages, or phages, which are ancient viruses that target and consume bacteria.
Phages were considered promising treatment tools until the arrival of antibiotics in the 1930s redirected research. With 10 million people expected to die from superbug infections by 2050, however, interest has renewed.
University officials said the center was inspired by the 2016 results of a last-ditch effort to save Tom Patterson, then a 69-year-old professor in UCSD’s Department of Psychiatry.
Patterson was infected by a multidrug-resistant bacterium during a vacation in the Middle East. Comatose and dying, a team of UCSD, U.S. Navy, private industry and other university experts developed “experimental cocktails of bacteriophages” to treat Patterson. It worked, He woke within days and fully recovered.
It was the first time a U.S. patient with such a condition was successfully treated intravenously with bacteriophages, according to UCSD.
Six other patients have been treated with similar methods in the two years since Patterson’s episode. Though one treatment came too late in the course of infection to be successful, UCSD said, infections were cured in three other cases, and alleviated in two.
“The story of how phages saved Tom’s life and have helped others, the tremendous depth of scientific knowledge and medical practice, combined with intuition, innovation and just sheer guts, is what UCSD is all about,” UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said. “IPATH captures many of our most cherished ambitions: a robust, interdisciplinary research that advances science, but also delivers tangible benefits to patients and society. Phage therapy has the potential to save millions of lives.”
Khosla’s office contributed $1.2 million in seed money to the center, which will collaborate with institutions such as the Center for Phage Technology at Texas A&M University, San Diego State University and two biotechnology companies specializing in the development of therapeutic phages.
The center’s primary goal will be conducting clinical phage therapy trials intended to pave the way for practical application. Initial research will focus on patients with multidrug-resistant chronic infections associated with cystic fibrosis, organ transplantation and implantable hardware, such as pacemakers and joint replacements.
Steffanie Strathdee, UCSD associate dean of global health sciences, and Robert Schooley, UCSD infectious disease expert, will co-direct the center.
Strathdee, who is married to Patterson, worked with Schooley and others to secure the emergency compassionate-use exemption that was used to treat her husband with experimental phages.
“IPATH builds upon what we’ve learned and will apply rigorous principles that span from bench to bedside to better understand the potential role for phage therapeutics in the treatment of patients with infections that cannot successfully be treated with currently available antibiotics,” Strathdee said. “It taps into and enhances a wide range of existing clinical and translational research programs — there are few places in the world with similar resources to treat multidrug-resistant bacterial infections.”
–City News Service
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