Two American patients have been cured of incurable infections after being treated with pioneering therapy that contains genetically engineered bactericidal viruses.
These developments raise hopes that drugs called phage therapy could be widely used to combat the global crisis of resistant infections. One patient, 26-year-old Jarrod Johnson with cystic fibrosis, nearly died after suffering from a chronic lung infection that had persisted for six years. After receiving phage therapy, his infection cleared, he received a lung transplant and was able to continue his active life.
Johnson, who lives in Denver, said, “I am very grateful for the effort, perseverance and creativity of all the people involved in my treatment.” “I thought I was going to die. They saved my life. ”
Another patient, a 56-year-old man with severe arthritis, showed that he had recovered from a skin infection that had invaded his body and could not be treated with conventional drugs. The group, which four years ago developed a new treatment for a British teenager, says the latest developments could lead to a clinical trial of phage therapy, which will begin next year.
Professor Graham Hatfull, who developed the therapy for the University of Pittsburgh team, said: “These two reports really provide a significant incentive to treat phages for patients who are unable to control antibiotic infections.”
Professor Martha Clockie, a microbiologist at the University of Leicester, who was not involved, said: “There is a growing sense in the clinical community that phages can be part of the solution for patients, especially for patients. There is no other alternative at the moment. There is a general need for alternatives to antibiotics. ”
In 2019, 1.2 million people worldwide died as a direct cause of microbial infections, and nearly 5 million people died from multidrug-resistant infections.
Bacteriophages, in short phages, are harmless viruses that are natural enemies of bacteria. Hatful spent almost forty years in his laboratory collecting a collection of phages stored in 20,000 frozen vials. “We have a large collection of phages and we have listed more than 4,000 of their genomes, so we can understand their genomic profiles and relationships in great detail,” he said.
Since the British incident in 2019, the team has been in demand from doctors who have run out of treatment for their patients. Dr. Rebecca Dedrick, a researcher at Hatful’s laboratory, said the flooded gates were opened at that time. “We’ve started getting requests from all over the world and we’re still getting them.”
One of them is Dr. Jerry Nick, director of the National Jewish Health Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program in Denver.
His patient, Jarrod, suffers from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes the lungs to become clogged with mucus, leading to frequent infections. By 2020, his lungs were less than a third of their normal function, and he had been suffering from stubborn bacterial strains for six years. He refused a lung transplant because of the high risk of spreading the infection after using immunosuppressants. “In the year before surgery, he was hospitalized 11 times and a total of 200 days,” Nick said. “He’s close to death, maybe a year left.”
In 2016, Nick and his colleagues sent samples of it Mycobacterium abscessus from Johnson’s lungs to Hatful’s lab in the hopes of finding a phage that would destroy him. However, because phages are common to several types of bacteria, Hatful and his team screened dozens of candidates before identifying the two that effectively killed the bacteria. They then genetically engineered to increase the efficiency of the phages.
Johnson was treated with a combination of phage and antibiotics for more than a year, requiring two intravenous injections daily to clear the infection and allow a lung transplant. Some antibodies against phages were formed in his body, but this was slow enough that the phages could get rid of the bacteria faster than the antibodies that destroyed the phage.
After receiving treatment, Johnson graduated from high school, worked, met his girlfriend, and although he had some difficulties with the transplant, Nick said he was generally fine.
The second patient, a 56-year-old man with arthritis, developed a serious skin infection, which is dangerous among those taking immunosuppressive drugs. He was treated with a single phage called Muddy, which was found in a sample taken from under a rotten eggplant. A few weeks later, her skin wounds were cleared, and two months later a biopsy tested negative for bacteria. He was treated for a total of more than eight months.
The stories are reported in the journals Cell and Nature Communications.