One of medicine’s biggest challenges today is that we can’t make new antibiotics fast enough to keep up with bacteria evolving to become resistant to them.
There have been no new classes of antibiotics approved since the '80s. That means sometimes there are just no options available to treat infections caused by antibiotic-resistant "superbugs".
But one startup — Paris-based Phagos — has just raised €2.4m to build tech to fight those superbugs with phages (full name: bacteriophages). These are viruses can find and kill specific strains of bacteria.
Since its founding in May 2021, Phagos has targeted animal farming. As the biggest consumer of antibiotics, farming is a large contributor to bacterial resistance.
“Animals eat antibiotics and we then eat them,” says Alexandros Pantalis, CEO and cofounder of Phagos. “Environmental, animal and human health are all interconnected — we address the problem where it is biggest.”
The seed round was led by Demeter and Hoxton Ventures. Other investors are agritech VC firm Agfunder and Entrepreneur First — Pantalis and his cofounder and CTO, Adèle James, met through the Entrepreneur First programme — as well as angel investors including Grant Aarons from FabricNano and Max Jamily from Hoxton Farms.
The company plans to use the funding to find an industry partner, continue R&D and scale up production.
Developing phage cocktails
The startup develops phage "cocktails" that target several bacterial strains known for making animals sick. Phagos has already had promising results in a small-scale study in aquatic animals, the team says.
Using phages as an alternative to antibiotics is not a new idea. Companies like Pherecydes Pharma in France or Armata Pharmaceuticals in the US are developing bacteriophage treatments for human diseases, but none of them have been approved yet. The technology has also caught the interest of Covid vaccine developer BioNTech, which acquired Austrian bacteriophage startup PhagoMed in November 2021.
When it comes to animal farming, Phagos will be directly competing with Polish startup Proteon Pharmaceuticals, which sells bacteriophage feed additives for birds and fish.
According to Pantalis, Phagos will be taking a different approach. Instead of launching a "static" product for each application, the goal of the startup is to follow an "evolutionary" approach where new bacteriophages can be added to the mix responding to the needs of the farmers.
Phagos can make a new bacteriophage from scratch in two months. However, regulators don’t move that fast.
“The only animal health phage product available on the European market took four years to be approved,” says Pantalis. “The current regulatory landscape is not ready for bacteriophages to be a success.”
There is no precedent for a product with this approach getting approval by the European Medicines Agency, which regulates human and veterinary medicines in the EU. That will be one of the big challenges Phagos will face going forward, but Pantalis is optimistic that a solution will be found in collaboration with the regulators.