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MPs to examine use of bacteria-killing viruses to treat infection

15 November 2022

The Commons Science and Technology Committee today announces the terms of reference for a new inquiry exploring the potential of bacteriophages as an alternative to antibiotics.

Bacteriophages, also known as phages, are viruses that infect and can kill bacteria. They hold promise in treating drug-resistant infections, which are on the rise globally and are estimated to cause 10 million worldwide deaths each year by 2050.

Though phage therapy is established in several countries as a treatment for diseases such as cholera, skin and lung infections, due to regulation is has only been available for ‘compassionate use’ in the UK and the EU, in instances where conventional antibiotics have failed.

MPs will investigate the barriers to the development and use of phage therapy in the UK. The Government’s approach to the regulation, research and funding of phage therapy will also be examined. The Committee is seeking evidence on international approaches as well as what is needed to improve the clinical trial pipeline.

Chair's comment

Science and Technology Committee Chair, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, said:

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest public health threats facing the world. With untreatable infections on the rise and no new antibiotics in the pipeline, it is vital to investigate alternative treatments.

“We have been told that whilst phage therapy holds promise, current regulation may be preventing progress.

“We want to find out how effective phages are in treating human disease and what the barriers are to research and development.”

Background information

The idea for this inquiry was submitted to the Committee by Applied Microbiology International as part of the My Science Inquiry open call for inquiry suggestions. The Committee agreed to take forward the inquiry following a successful pitch by Professor James Ebdon on 19 October. Professor Ebdon in his pitch said the UK had been “slow” to recognise the full potential of phage therapy.

In May 2022, the Government introduced a new commitment to explore alternative antimicrobial interventions, including phages, as part of the UK’s five-year national action plan on antimicrobial resistance.

In 2019, £6 million of UKRI funding had been committed to research into bacteriophages as a response to antibiotic resistance.

Terms of reference

The Committee is inviting written submissions by Friday 20 January, addressing any or all the following points:

  • How well established is the evidence-base for phages as an antimicrobial for humans?
    • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What regulatory and financial approaches have been used by other countries for the use of phages and what lessons can the UK learn?
  • What opportunities does the UK have for regulatory divergence from the EU on phages, and what would the implications be?
  • What are the major barriers and opportunities relating to the development and deployment of phages in the UK?
  • How well developed is the UK’s phage research and clinical trial pipeline and how could it be improved?
  • To what extent is the UK Government ensuring that phage research and development is adequately funded and supported?

Further information

Image: PA