Dr Tony Smithyman
BROOKVALE NSW 2100T 61 2 9905 7
Special Phage Services
Among those leading the charge is Sydney’s Special Phage Services (SPS), which is developing ‘phage therapy’ products made of cocktails of naturally occurring viruses called bacteriophages.
These bacteriophages work quickly to attach to and destroy pathogenic and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These include some strains of staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as golden staph or MRSA.
At the helm of the research – believed to be the only one of its kind in Australia – is immunologist Dr Tony Smithyman, the founder and managing director of SPS.
“Antibiotic resistance is emerging as a major problem in the foreseeable future, perhaps as early as 50 years,” he said.
“This has put pressure on scientists around the world to find ways of treating bacterial infections.”
Dr Smithyman said antibiotic resistance was a result of overuse, misuse in prescribing and administering, and the natural pressures of biology.
The research into bacteriophages is not a new concept. Phage therapy was first described in 1919 at the Pasteur Institute Paris by Professor Felix d’Herelle, who used it effectively as a treatment for dysentery. It fell by the wayside with the development of antibiotics.
He said that bacteriophages have an important role to play in bacterial infection control, and were not designed to replace antibiotics. Instead, he sees the two working side by side, and believes this will significantly extend the useful life of many antibiotics.
Another major advantage of bacteriophages is that they are more selective in attacking a specific strain of bacteria – unlike antibiotics which often eradicate a broad spectrum of bacteria, good and bad.
Dr Smithyman said bacteriophage therapy had a wide range of application fields, including human health, agriculture (including animals, plants and vegetables), aquaculture, environmental contamination, and the defence industry.
He said the antibiotics market was worth up to $80 billion annually, and he believed bacteriophages could potentially tap into about half of that.