In response to concerns about antimicrobial resistance, the animal production industry is implementing strategies to reduce its reliance on antibiotics and to optimise their use when they are necessary. This includes measures such as improved hygiene, vaccination, and better management practices to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks, as well as considering alternative strategies.
One of these alternatives that Polish biotechnology company, Proteon Pharmaceuticals wants the industry to adopt is bacteriophages, or phages for short. Thanks to these naturally occurring organisms’ ability to infect specific bacteria without affecting the host animal, they can be set to task to protect livestock. Proteon has been harnessing this ability in its work and currently has four phage products in its portfolio that can help producers cope with challenges from E. coli, Salmonella, Aeromonas sp. and Pseudomonas sp., in poultry production and aquaculture.
To discuss the potential of phages and what an effective phage strategy should look like, we are joined today by Proteon’s Founder and CEO, Professor Jarosław Dastych. He also gives Feedinfo a look at how Proteon is helping the industry implement the use of phages and what new strains the company currently has in the R&D pipeline.
[Feedinfo] Can you give us a brief history of Proteon Pharmaceuticals. How long has the company been active and what led to its creation?
[Jarosław Dastych] I founded Proteon Pharmaceuticals in May 2005 and at first employed several of my students to work together on a few biotechnology projects. Now, almost 18 years later, Proteon has grown and developed an innovative precision technology platform which enables the creation of products based on naturally occurring bacteriophages. This includes bacteriophage-based feed additives, which enables the reduction of antibiotics use and encourages more environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.
[Feedinfo] Can you talk us through what exactly bacteriophages are. How are they administered and how do they go about fighting pathogenic bacteria in the host animal?
[Jarosław Dastych] Bacteriophages are the smallest, most abundant organisms on the planet and their purpose is to fight bacteria in the body or in nature. Phages are viruses that infect only bacterial cells, and thus, since their discovery over 100 years ago, have been proposed as antimicrobial agents. Phages were used as antibacterial therapies in the 1920s and 30s but steadily fell out of favour following the discovery and mass production of antibiotics.
[Feedinfo] Considering the push to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal production, do you think the concept and its usefulness in the fight against AMR is well understood by the industry? Where are you seeing gaps in the knowledge and why?
[Jarosław Dastych] Bacteriophages are a proven, serious competitor to antibiotics when it comes to controlling pathogenic bacteria. Proteon’s phage-based products are an exciting alternative, as well-designed bacteriophage cocktails are very effective against the different pathogenic bacteria species. Working against selected pathogenic strains, they do not contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance. They function by modulating the microbiome and enabling prophylactic health. And while some might consider it a disadvantage that effective phage therapy and prophylactics means using a specific bacteriophage to tackle a specific bacterium, this is actually highly desirable in the prevention and treatment of diseases.
They are, however, not just a simple replacement for antibiotics, as they also have a number of other beneficial features. Bacteria have great difficulty developing resistance to phages as phages keep evolving and bypassing the bacterial defence mechanisms.
[Feedinfo] How common is the use of phages in livestock farming currently? And how do you see that changing in the coming years as AMR becomes increasingly concerning?
[Jarosław Dastych] This is still a novel solution compared to others on the market, but it is definitely growing. In the beginning bacteriophage products were costly and difficult to scale to production. But in the last decade or so we have seen technology enabling the development of well characterised and standardised industrial phage products, which allowed for the rapid acceleration of phage technology.
And we definitely foresee this situation changing more over time as we urgently need natural, safe and efficacious preventative measures against antibiotic resistant bacteria.
[Feedinfo] How effective are phages at tackling an already existing bacterial infection compared to antibiotics? Or are they best employed as a preventative treatment?
[Jarosław Dastych] We recommend using bacteriophages as a preventative measure. We should be clear that Proteon’s products are registered as feed additives, they are not drugs.
Proteon’s vision of sustainable livestock farming has become a reality with the development of our BAFASAL+G® product. It is a liquid feed additive that can simply be added to the drinking water on poultry farms, preventing the colonisation of the gut microbiome by Salmonella. BAFASAL+G® improves bird health and performance by reducing bacterial load throughout the lifecycle. The additive can also be introduced at various points in a bird’s lifecycle, though it is recommended to use it from hatching due to the young animals’ susceptibility to Salmonella.
[Feedinfo] What should an effective phage strategy look like? What should it consider?
[Jarosław Dastych] As mentioned above, an effective phage strategy should be based on preventative usage and should consider the lifecycle of the animal. We definitely recommend using phages from hatching throughout the animal’s whole lifecycle for the best results.
Our products are developed as rationally designed phage cocktails, which assures efficacy against majority of bacteria strains found in different locations and helps to minimise any risk of bacteria developing resistance.
We also recommend improving biosecurity when using phage products as this contributes to the reduction of the spread of bacteria, which can support the effectiveness of the prevention strategy.
[Feedinfo] How does Proteon go about helping customers with the correct application of its phages?
[Jarosław Dastych] Our veterinarians educate farmers about best biosecurity practices and provide support on the best use of our products. As part of this cooperation, we offer advanced diagnostic tools that allow for the accurate identification of pathogens and the implementation of necessary actions to reduce the risk of infection and potential losses.
[Feedinfo] You currently have four products in your portfolio, with 3 focused on tackling E. coli and Salmonella Typhimurium, Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Gallinarum in poultry and one focused on Aeromonas sp. and Pseudomonas sp in aquaculture. What other bacteria of concern do you have in your sights to develop phages for? How long does it take to bring a new phage product to market?
[Jarosław Dastych] We are currently in the last stages of a solution for swine oedema (edema) disease, but are also working on solutions for dairy cow mastitis and vibrio infections in aquaculture to name a few.
It takes at least 36 months to develop the commercial product, though this varies depending on the bacteria type.
At Proteon Pharmaceuticals we remain committed to furthering phage technology and to its application in the fight against antimicrobial resistance in animal production and improving animal health naturally. This means continuous investment and dedication to developing solutions to bacterial challenges of concern.
Published in association with Proteon Pharmaceuticals