Paul Bollyky, MD, DPhil (associate professor, Infectious Diseases)

Team Science Tackles Antibiotic-Resistant Infections

Images courtesy of Paul Bollyky. 

March 27, 2023 - By Sarah Paris

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial wound infections are responsible for massive human suffering. They also come at a high cost to health systems. Stanford scientists are launching an experimental approach using phages (cutting-edge, novel therapies for treating bacterial infections, including wounds and burns).

An interdisciplinary effort will investigate novel wound dressings that deliver lytic bacteriophages – viruses that kill bacteria – to treat chronic wound and ear infections. The team includes Paul Bollyky, MD, PhD, an associate professor of infectious diseases and of microbiology and immunology; Ovijit Chaudhuri, PhD, an associate professor of mechanical engineering; Jenny Aronson, MD, a clinical assistant professor of infectious diseases; Peter Santa Maria, MBBS, PhD, an associate professor of otolaryngology; and Derek Amanatullah, MD, PhD, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery.

The initial trial has been jump-started with funding from Stanford’s Catalyst program, which selects innovative projects with the potential to significantly impact health care and improve patients’ lives.

Bacteriophage artwork, courtesy of Paul Bollyky Lab. 

“If this approach is successful, it will put Stanford at the forefront of developing personalized phage therapy to treat infections,” said Bollyky.

The trial is based on data from his group and others, which indicate that phages act synergistically with conventional antibiotics and have activity against even highly antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, phages in circulation have poor pharmacokinetics, thus far making it impossible to deliver phages to sites of infection in an effective, sustained manner.

To solve this problem, the team developed hydrogels – crosslinked networks of polymers – that can deliver phages reliably. These gels use clinical-grade, FDA-approved materials and can be integrated into wound dressings. They can also be used directly for treating ear infections. A patent on the technology has been submitted.

“This is the first technology to deliver phages in a sustained manner,” said Dr. Bollyky.

To deliver therapy personalized to each patient, the team partnered with FELIX, Inc., a local company that provides clinical-grade, FDA-approved phages, engineered to match to patient's individual bacterial isolates and antibiotic susceptibilities.

The immediate goal is a stage I/II clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of bacteriophage wound dressings to treat infections caused by P. aeruginosa and S. aureus. Success in this study will enable stage III clinical trials and commercial development and will establish Stanford as a leader in personalized therapy for chronic wound infections.

Catalyst’s newest cohort spotlights Stanford innovation

Within the Stanford Medicine Catalyst program, Stanford innovators aim to solve an array of  problems in health and medicine: Some fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, some harness artificial intelligence to help physicians more accurately detect disease and others use novel technology to improve outcomes of organ transplants and assuage the global organ shortage. But they all have something important in common: They're uniquely poised to help millions of people around the world.