What are bacteriophages?

Bacteriophages, or “phages” for short, are bacteria-specific viruses.  Phages work by binding to specific receptors on the surface of bacteria.  Once bound, they inject their DNA, hijacking the bacteria’s cellular machinery and using it to make more copies of themselves. Tens or hundreds of these copies burst out of the bacteria, killing it in the process, and go on to infect new bacteria.

Phages are like a natural form of antibiotics with the added ability to self-replicate.  Phages are everywhere: on us, in us, and around us.  They outnumber bacteria 10:1, they kill half the bacteria on the planet every two days, and importantly, there are phage-based products already on the market with Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status from the FDA for use on food intended for human consumption. EpiBiome is working toward FDA-approved therapeutic claims for phage cocktails, which are mixtures of phages that can specifically kill known pathogens and have been formulated into a treatment for a specific indication.

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Increasing incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including the extensively media-covered emergence of colistin-resistant bacteria, has further strengthened the resolve of regulators and consumers to curb the use of shared-class antibiotics (used in both human and animal medicine) in animal agriculture. Major industry players, such as Cargill, have announced significant cutbacks in the use of these antibiotics. Nevertheless, few FDA-approved alternatives exist, and livestock producers find themselves in an ethical conundrum, unable to deliver on their responsibilities to public health and to animal husbandry at the same time.

Furthermore, although the typical consumer doesn’t realize it, producers are not fans of widespread antibiotics usage. In the US, it is a felony to adulterate milk or meat sold into the food supply with antibiotics residues. Accordingly, when an animal is treated with certain antibiotics, producers must adhere to a strict “withholding time,” or risk severe penalties for residue violations. Unfortunately, these withholding times result in dairy producers discarding several gallons of milk per treated cow per day, and for beef, swine, poultry and aquaculture producers, result in additional feed, housing, and displacement costs.  Collectively, these withholding times cost producers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

A substantial opportunity exists for EpiBiome’s technology, which provides a way of killing bacterial pathogens without the use of antibiotics and offers the tantalizing prospect of short withholding times and, potentially, compatibility with organic production practices.

The EpiBiome Process

EpiBiome’s process integrates world-class expertise in microbiology, phage biology and next-generation sequencing in one solutions-driven platform.

Using novel sequencing and bioinformatic processes, EpiBiome can identify pathogenic bacteria and microbiome changes that may contribute to disease development. EpiBiome’s phage discovery platform is being used to develop targeted antibiotic-free technologies using a customized cocktail of bacteriophages.

EpiBiome Process

EpiBiome has developed partnerships and collaborations in order to access specimens from animals and humans affected by bacterial infections, such as specimens collected from cows with mastitis (infection of the udder). The company uses a proprietary sequencing platform to identify the likely infection-causing bacteria. Once identified, the bacteria are selectively cultured and fully sequenced. In parallel, EpiBiome is developing a collection of sequenced and well characterized bacteriophages. The bacteria are co-cultured with the bacteriophages to isolate the “winning” phages able to kill the bacteria. Once isolated, the phages are combined according to proprietary methods to create a cocktail that kills the harmful bacteria present and prevents the emergence of bacterial resistance.