Bacteriophages have been instinctively killing bacteria for millions of years. These natural bacteria predators represent a potential alternative to antibiotics and Ferring Pharmaceuticals wants to use them against inflammatory bowel disease. The Swiss pharma joined forces with phages specialist Intralytix to manufacture these viruses for clinical purposes.

Bacteriophages can be very selective when it comes to attacking bacteria, which makes it a unique tool for treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The tiny predators can precisely pin point and go after pathogen bacteria, whilst the beneficial microbiome remains safe and sound.

Ferring_ bacteriophage

Electron micrograph of bacteriophages.  Source: Dr Graham Beards

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Ferring is not the only one focusing on this powerful approach. French startup Eligo also aims at curing the inflammatory disease by employing bacteriophages. However, whilst Eligo uses the trendy technology CRISPR combined with the capsids of phages instead of the whole entity, Ferring is betting on the core bacteriophage technology of the American company Intralytix. The latter currently holds the world’s largest phage-based products portfolio on commercial markets.

Ferring has a special interest in gastroenterology. Its most advanced product in this arena is a Phase II fusion protein, designed to treat Crohn’s disease, a chronic IBD condition. The bacteria Escherichia coli was just recently linked to this autoimmune disease, and represents the target of this collaboration.

The first step of Ferring’s cooperation with Intralytix is the development of a set of bacteriophages, specifically designed to treat IBD. Clinical trials, intended to start in 2016 will show whether these phages are viable and efficient in humans. Should everything work out, Ferring would then be one step ahead of Eligio. The testing of the latter still remains in preclinical state, as Xavier Duportet, Eligo’s cofounder, stated himself in a recent interview we had with him.

Whoever comes out winner of this tight race, capsids or entire viruses, thousands of patients worldwide are hoping for a cure to IBD.

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