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The Institute of Integrative Systems Biology (I2SysBio), pioneer in therapies against multi-resistant bacteria to antibiotics

  • Scientific Culture and Innovation Unit
  • February 1st, 2024
Environmental and Biomedical Virology Group of the Institute of Integrative Systems Biology (I2SysBio), a joint centre of the University of Valencia and the Spanish national Research Council (CSIC).
Environmental and Biomedical Virology Group of the Institute of Integrative Systems Biology (I2SysBio), a joint centre of the University of Valencia and the Spanish national Research Council (CSIC).

The Environmental and Biomedical Virology group of the Institute of Integrative Systems Biology (I2SysBio), a joint centre of the University of Valencia and the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), is a pioneer in Spain in producing therapeutic phages (bacterial viruses) with those that treat diseases caused by multiresistant bacteria. Currently, the laboratory in which the group led by Pilar Domingo works has carried out five treatments and the sixth begins on Monday, February 5.

Bacteriophages, mostly known as phages, have been known for more than a hundred years, although, after the discovery of antibiotics, they stopped being used in Europe and America. “Currently, due to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, phages are proposed as a powerful therapy, although in the West there is still no specific regulatory framework and their use is focused on compassionate therapy”, explains Pilar Domingo-Calap. They are used in patients with chronic or persistent infections due to a multi-resistant bacteria for which no treatment is available.

Phages are viruses that coexist with bacteria from the beginning in a parasite-host relationship. As a consequence of their specificity, they present enormous potential as a therapy in biomedicine. “Their compassionate use in patients is having very promising results, mainly in people with Cystic Fibrosis, since they are a group especially affected by chronic bacterial infections”, explains the researcher, who assures that phages “are capable of recognising target bacteria of specifically and are capable of destroying them very efficiently, including multi-resistant bacteria. “We are talking about personalised medicine, it is necessary to find the phage capable of effectively killing the patient’s bacteria”.

Since mid-2023, the five phage treatments from the I2SysBio laboratory have been applied to four patients, the last a person with cystic fibrosis transplanted from both lungs, affected by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of the well-known superbacteria. The phages have managed to reduce the bacterial load, improve the patient’s lung capacity, and therefore her quality of life. These treatments do not have regulation today, and in this case, the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) authorised them as compassionate treatments. I2SysBio is postulated as the first Spanish centre in the production of therapeutic phages, thanks to the protocols developed by Pilar Domingo-Calap’s group.

To the six aforementioned cases of phage use, a seventh pending validation was added, which has been prepared in collaboration between Pilar Domingo’s laboratory and her company, Evolving Therapeutics, a spin-off of the UV Science Park focused on the use of phages to combat bacteria from a One Health approach. These treatments for patients are carried out altruistically and promote the use of phages in clinics in our country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that multi-resistant antibiotic bacteria have been, for decades, one of the greatest threats to global health on the entire planet, causing around five million deaths a year. Of them, around 20,000 are produced in Spanish hospitals, according to data from the Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology (SEIMC). This figure is 20 times higher than the number of victims from traffic accidents.

Pilar Domingo has a doctorate in Biology from the University of Valencia and has been the beneficiary of a Ramón y Cajal contract in Biomedicine, where she has developed her line of research in phage therapy. She is also principal investigator of the Environmental and Biomedical Virology group.

This activity has been funded by the @adoptunfago campaign, in collaboration with the Spanish Cystic Fibrosis Federation.