Phage therapy is a method of treating bacterial infections which uses unique features of bacteriophages – bacterial viruses which attack only bacterial cells. Bacteriophages (or simply "phages") are able to destroy different bacteria including those which are resistant to antibiotics and which cause life-threatening infections. It is this exceptional feature which determines the potential of phages in treating bacterial infections. This method had been known since the beginning of the 20th century. The Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy PAS in Wroclaw (IIET PAS) has been conducting research on the biological properties and the application of bacteriophages for several decades. It has at its disposal methods for isolating bacteriophages and for preparing phage formulations which have been provided for different hospitals in Poland for phage therapy coordinated by the institute since the 1970s.
To enable the application of phage therapy after Poland joined the European Union according to current regulations the institute opened its own Phage Therapy Unit (PTU) in 2005. Its aim is the admission of patients for treatment and its provision according to the protocol approved by an independent bioethics committee.
The Phage Therapy Unit is supported by the Bacteriophage Laboratory of the IIET PAS, which carries out phage typing procedures, prepares the phage formulations for patients and performs some other tests within experimental phage therapy. Recently two branches of the Phage Therapy Unit were opened in Cracow and Czestochowa.
Since the results of standard clinical trials of phage preparations enabling their registration are not available yet, this form of treatment is currently possible only under the rules of a therapeutic experiment (on the basis of the respective Polish regulations) and in accord with the Declaration of Helsinki, also regulated in Poland by the Medical Profession Act of 5th December 1996.
“ 37. In the treatment of an individual patient, where proven interventions do not exist or other known interventions have been ineffective, the physician, after seeking expert advice, with informed consent from the patient or a legally authorised representative, may use an unproven intervention if in the physician's judgement it offers hope of saving life, re-establishing health or alleviating suffering. This intervention should subsequently be made the object of research, designed to evaluate its safety and efficacy. In all cases, new information must be recorded and, where appropriate, made publicly available.”
The phage therapy is conducted on an outpatient basis under the protocol of an experimental programme: “Experimental phage therapy of drug-resistant bacterial infections, including MRSA infections” approved by an Independent Bioethics Committee (opinion No. KB-349/2005 – for English translation please click here). The programme is supervised by Professor Andrzej Górski, MD, PhD – the head of the Phage Therapy Unit and the Bacteriophage Laboratory.