Treat multi-resistant germs with viruses

Treat multi-resistant germs with viruses

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Fight antibiotic-resistant pathogens with special viruses

More and more pathogens develop resistance to antibiotics and infectious diseases that were once easy to treat suddenly become a massive health risk again. The World Health Organization (WHO) sees multi-resistant pathogens as one of the greatest health threats in the coming decades. Researchers are therefore working hard to find new approaches to combat resistant germs. Special viruses that specifically target bacteria could be the solution here.

Antibiotic resistance has been increasing worldwide for years and infections with resistant pathogens are a growing threat to public health. In a joint research project by the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine ITEM, the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Charité Research Organization GmbH (CRO) and the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH (DSMZ), special viruses should now be investigated as a treatment approach against multi-resistant bacteria.

Fight bacteria with viruses

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft quotes WHO general secretary Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying that hundreds of years of medical progress could be destroyed by increasing resistance. Therefore, in the “Phage4Cure” project, new approaches against the resistant pathogens are to be tested. "The aim is to fight multi-resistant germs with viruses, so-called bacteriophages," reports the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

Targeted attack on certain bacteria

The phages use bacteria to spread by penetrating them, multiplying in the bacteria and then causing them to burst. This means a safe end for the bacteria. In addition, phages only attack their specific host bacteria and they have no influence on body cells and other bacteria, reports the research team. This makes the phages particularly interesting for therapeutic use.

Phage therapy has been known for a long time

However, there are no approved phage preparations in Germany to date, although phage therapy has long been known per se, according to the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. For example, it has been used successfully in the countries of the former Soviet Union for decades, reports Professor Holger Ziehr, project manager at Fraunhofer ITEM. In Germany, however, this individual-specific treatment was not able to establish itself - especially because there are no reliable clinical studies to date.

Identify therapeutically usable phages

"In view of the antibiotic resistance, however, phages are increasingly becoming the focus of research, especially since the pharmaceutical industry is not developing new antibiotics," said Professor Ziehr. Promising phages should therefore be identified in the new research project. If this succeeds, it is important to establish a manufacturing process or pharmaceutical manufacturing and to check the effectiveness in preclinical and clinical studies.

Use against bacterial pneumonia

"The first step is to develop an inhalable cocktail of active ingredients from three bacteriophages against the multi-resistant bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa," reports the research team. The bacterium is a dreaded hospital germ and the most common bacterial cause of pneumonia, but can also lead to urinary tract infections and even blood poisoning (sepsis).

The manufacturing process is established at the Fraunhofer ITEM and bacteria (in this case Pseudomonas aeruginosa) are used for this, which - as soon as a certain cell density is reached - are exposed to the phages. The latter then go through their multiplication cycle until all bacteria are destroyed and a clear broth with phages remains. In the next step, this is pharmaceutically purified and therapeutically useful phages remain.

Therapy for various infectious diseases

"Our goal is to develop phages as additional therapy for various infectious diseases - especially where antibiotics no longer work," emphasizes Professor Ziehr. In the meantime, two other phage projects have also been added - the "PhagoFlow" project (treatment of wound sepsis with phage) and "Phage2Go" (inhaled MRSA therapy with phage). The researchers see overall promising options for treating infections with multi-resistant bacteria in the phages and hope for further groundbreaking findings in this research area. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft: New active substances against multi-resistant germs (published on January 2nd, 2020),

Video: Deadly bacteria and the pharmaceutical industry. DW Documentary (August 2022).