COVID-19 caused 3.55 million deaths globally in 2021, but antibiotic resistant infections were associated with 4.95 million deaths in 2019 - and that number is expected to rise to 10 million by 2050. Thus we urgently need antibiotic alternatives, particularly in Africa and Asia where 90% of the antibiotic-resistant deaths will occur. Phages for Global Health empowers scientists in Africa and Asia to develop inexpensive, natural antibacterials (phages) that can kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The antibiotic resistance crisis disproportionately impacts developing countries, and misuse of antibiotics in COVID-19 patients is expected to increase antibiotic resistance rates worldwide. Before antibiotics were discovered, phages were used as antibacterial agents. With few other treatment options available now, phage-based drugs are regaining popularity in industrialized nations, but most researchers in developing countries lack the expertise to develop and utilize them effectively.
Phages could be especially useful in the developing world since they can treat antibiotic-resistant infections, are easy to isolate from local environments, relatively inexpensive to produce, and have no reported side effects. We are (1) teaching developing world scientists how to isolate phages, (2) partnering with them to develop phage products, (3) providing information to regional drug regulatory agencies, and (4) working toward establishing centralized phage banks in developing countries.
We have run 4 in-person workshops in Africa, teaching scientists how to isolate phages. Those trainees have now started >50 phage research projects, won grants >$945,000, and taught phage biology to 1200 others - rapid scaling! In 2022 we ran our first virtual workshop for scientists in Southeast Asia, and we now want to return to in-person trainings. Since phages can kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food, livestock and people, all this work could save thousands of lives, if not millions.