Carus and Fixed Phage: ‘We’re trying to move the science of phage forward in animal health’

Published Tuesday, 29th November 2022

Carus Animal Health and Fixed Phage have now been collaborating for around two and a half years. S&P Global’s head of animal health Joseph Harvey met with the leaders of both firms to get their take on the opportunity ahead to bring bacteriophage to the veterinary medicine sector.

Carus believes it can succeed in bringing bacteriophage-based products to the animal health sector using Fixed Phage’s plasma discharge technology.

Jolian Howell – chief commercial officer at Carus – said the firm’s pact with Fixed Phage presents a real opportunity to bring the targeted approach of phage into a therapeutic and preventative setting for animal health. Glasgow-based Fixed Phage is able to irreversibly bind phage to almost any surface. This immobilization allows phage delivery to targeted locations and potentially extends the antibacterial activity of phage from days to years.

David Browning, the chief executive of Fixed Phage, commented: “Bacteriophage has been in balance with bacteria long before humans were around. Every other day half the bacteria on the planet are taken out by phage. You’ve got this natural balance with every type of bacteria. There are maybe 100 different phages that specifically attack bacteria. A phage will bind to a specific bacteria and inject its DNA and the bacteria becomes a factory to make more phage.”

He noted there are two major challenges that are preventing phage being established as a viable commercial treatment in the mainstream healthcare sector.

“One, they are inherently unstable,” Mr Browning remarked. “They’re relatively easy to grow – all you need is a culture with a bacteria they are attracted to. However, the phage will very quickly lose activity. What we can do is fix them to pretty much anything you can think of. Some substrates are better than others, but what we use is our patented electrostatic charge mechanism. We tune that technology in a special way, so it enables a change in the surface of the material and the phage gets stuck to it. Once the phage is stuck to the surface, it stays there and the rate of lost activity is much reduced.

We can store them for years at ambient temperature.

“The other reason why phage has not been developed to their full potential is because it’s hard to patent a natural entity. If you do something special, as we have, you can file patents. We’ve got a very comprehensive suite of patents around the specific way we treat surfaces and how we ensure quality and performance.”

Mr Browning said Fixed Phage’s technology aims to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance. He believes a targeted phage provides benefits for tackling specific pathogenic threats beyond “a carpet bomb” approach by broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Carus collaboration

Fixed Phage – a University of Strathclyde spin-out – was founded 12 years ago. Mr Browning said the first nine years of the start-up’s life was spent demonstrating the potential of technology in various applications. He joined three years ago and helped the business focused on a smaller number of applications. Around two-and-a-half years ago, the start-up struck up a development collaboration with Carus Animal Health that focused on applications across multiple species. The partners have several projects underway “with a roadmap for more”, according to Mr Browning.

Carus was founded in 2017 by parent company and Japanese animal health leader Kyoritsu Seiyaku to identify and develop new technologies that have applications in animal health.

Mr Howell told S&P Global Animal Health: “Fixed Phage is a large part of Carus’ work. We reviewed multiple technology platforms that looked like they had potential antibacterial properties. After investigating these they either weren’t applicable or we couldn’t safely apply them in animal health.

“100 years ago, phage held a center stage in terms of fighting infection, but following the discovery of antibiotics they were largely relegated to the back of the shelf. Antibiotics became the go-to because they were effective and relatively low cost to produce and easily prescribed. With the focus on antimicrobial resistance, the industry is looking at alternatives to antibiotics and application of phage is bringing itself back into the limelight. It sits alongside the microbiome.

Microbiome research has elevated itself in human health and animal health – phage are closely related and making a dramatic climb in value as a therapeutic or preventative entity.”

Although there is an increasing number of businesses becoming involved in the bacteriophage therapy sector – both in human health and animal health – Mr Howell said Carus was interested in partnering with Fixed Phage due to its ability to stabilize phage onto a surface. This is something that could result in the development of a formulation as a spray, tablet or gel.

The firms are conducting dermatological and periodontal projects for companion animals. They are also targeting cattle, poultry and aquaculture. In poultry, the companies are targeting Salmonella-related diseases. For aquaculture, the companies are aiming to address infections that impact recirculating systems. In fact, Mr Browning pointed out the use of recirculating aquaculture systems has not reached a significant scale due to bacterial infections.

Mr Howell noted: “We’re endeavoring to move the science of phage forward in animal health. We started with our companion animal projects, so naturally we’re further along with them. Timelines are going to depend on the regulations, and whether we’re targeting a treatment claim or a preventative claim.”

While Fixed Phage and Carus are working together on numerous product candidates, the next major milestone will be achieving GMP approval for processes and protocols used in the projects – a big milestone for any new therapeutic approach. Mr Howell also pointed out the close-knit relationship with Carus has allowed Fixed Phage to revamp its facilities, hire more personnel and invest in new equipment.

Five-year timeline

The adoption of phage therapies by the animal health sector is not far behind the human pharma industry. While the latest science in animal health traditionally lagged behind human health, it seems this gap is closing. There are some clinical trials being conducted with phage in human health – Fixed Phage and Carus are not far behind in the animal health space.

“Phage will definitely find its way into animal health,” Mr Howell remarked. “At what point that happens, is clearly in the hands of development work and how fast science will allows us to travel. We’re trying to make that happen as fast as possible. There is a future for phage in animal health. We just have to work with the science, manufacturing and regulation around it.”

He suggested it could take between two and five years to bring phage to commercial fruition, with two years expected to gain preventative claims and up to five for therapeutic claims.

Mr Browning added: “We’ve seen a significant shift since COVID-19. Regulators are concerned about what the next big threat might be to human and animal health, and it’s recognized antimicrobial resistance could be a much a bigger threat than COVID-19 in terms of its impact on not just human and animal health but on the planet.”

Analyst Contact Details: Joseph Harvey
S&P Global

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