One of the biggest challenges in medicine today is that we can’t make new antibiotics fast enough to keep up with bacteria and become resistant.
No new classes of antibiotics have been approved since the 80s. This sometimes means that there are simply no options available to treat infections caused by antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’.
But a startup – Phagos, based in Paris – has just raised 2.4 million euros to develop a technology to fight these superbugs with phages (full name: bacteriophages). These are viruses capable of finding and killing specific strains of bacteria.
Since its creation in May 2021, Phagos has targeted breeding. As the largest consumer of antibiotics, agriculture is a major contributor to bacterial resistance.
“Animals eat antibiotics and then we eat them,” says Alexandros Pantalis, CEO and co-founder of Phagos. “Environmental, animal and human health are all interconnected – we address the problem where it matters most.”
The funding round was led by Demeter and Hoxton Ventures. Other investors are agritech venture capital firm Agfunder and Entrepreneur First – Pantalis and its co-founder and CTO, Adèle James, met through the Entrepreneur First program – as well as angel investors including Grant Aarons of FabricNano and Max Jamily of Hoxton Farms.
The company plans to use the funding to find an industrial partner, continue R&D and increase production.
Develop phage cocktails
The startup is developing phage “cocktails” targeting several bacterial strains known to make animals sick. Phagos has already shown promising results in a small-scale aquatic animal study, according to the team.
Using phages as an alternative to antibiotics is not a new idea. Companies like Pherecydes Pharma in France or Armata Pharmaceuticals in the United States are developing bacteriophage treatments for human diseases, but none of them have been approved yet. The technology has also attracted interest from Covid vaccine developer BioNTech, which acquired Austrian bacteriophage startup PhagoMed in November 2021.
When it comes to breeding, Phagos will compete directly with Polish startup Proteon Pharmaceuticals, which sells bacteriophage feed additives for birds and fish.
According to Pantalis, Phagos will take a different approach. Instead of launching a “static” product for each application, the startup’s goal is to follow an “evolutionary” approach where new bacteriophages can be added to the mix to meet farmers’ needs.
Phages can make a new bacteriophage from scratch in two months. However, regulators do not move so fast.
“The only animal health phage 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 using this approach to gain approval from the European Medicines Agency, which regulates medicines for human and veterinary use in the EU. This will be one of the big challenges facing Phagos in the future, but Pantalis is optimistic that a solution can be found in collaboration with regulators.
Clara Rodríguez Fernández is Sifted’s Berlin-based deeptech correspondent.