University Medicine Zurich is pursuing a completely new approach with its ImmunoPhage project. It hopes to use highly specialized viruses called bacteriophages to combat urinary tract infections. According to a press release, this could open up new treatment options for these infections with respect to the “pressing” and “pervasive” issue of antibiotic resistance. The press release goes on to state that the chosen approach is new and therefore associated with risks but is also promising. It was presented at University Medicine Zurich’s annual event on Thursday.
Thomas M. Kessler is quoted in the press release, saying: “We have high hopes for this pioneering project in the battle against antibiotic resistance.” He is one of three Principal Investigators and a Professor of Neuro-Urology at the University of Zurich as well as holding the position of Senior Physician at the Neuro-Urology Department of Balgrist University Hospital. He goes on to say: “We are the only ones in the world working on this therapeutic approach.”
There are plans for a bank with hundreds of phages to efficiently attack and destroy pathogenic bacteria. According to Martin Loessner, Professor of Microbiology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH), they also hope to engineer phages to enhance their healing potential by introducing immunomodulatory genes. This project even envisages using phages as immunotherapy for certain types of bladder cancer. There are also plans to extend phage therapy to infections of systems beyond the urinary tract.
Onur Boyman, Professor of Clinical Immunology at the University of Zurich and Director of the Department of Immunology at University Hospital Zurich, says: “ImmunoPhage holds great potential for using novel bacteriophage immunotherapy to fight chronic urinary tract infections. In order to unlock this potential, it's essential for different disciplines to work hand in hand.”
The press release further explains that specific characterization of the healing viruses is also important for this reason, as bacteriophages are still not authorized for medical use in Switzerland. ImmunoPhage has set itself the aim of achieving this important milestone.