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History of Phage Therapy

There was wide spread use, in the 1920's and 1930's, of phage therapy in the United States. The large pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Company sold "Staphylo jel", and other phage "jel labeled" products, for treatment of Streptococcus and colon bacilli infections. E.R. Squibb & Sons and the Swan-Myers division of Abbott Laboratories marketed a bacteriophage filtrate preparation for Staphylococcus, and combined bacteriophage filtrate preparations for Staphylococcus spp. and colon bacilli, respectively. Despite this initial enthusiasm for phage products, the discovery of antibiotics resulted in the abandonment of phage therapy in the United States and much of Western Europe. However, research and development of therapeutic phage preparations continued in the Soviet Union -- and it is still ongoing today in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

Phage Therapy is used extensively to treat infection throughout countries of the former Soviet Union. Phage therapy is part of the general standard of care there, used especially extensively in pediatric, burn and surgical hospital settings. Phage preparation was carried out on an industrial scale, employing 1,200 people just before the break-up of the Soviet Union. Tons of tablets, liquid preparations and spray containers of carefully-selected mixtures of phages for therapy and prophylaxis were shipped throughout the former Soviet Union each day. They generally were available both over the counter and through physicians. The largest use was in hospitals, to treat both primary and nosocomial infections, alone or in conjunction with chemical antibiotics. They played a particularly important role when antibiotic-resistant organisms were found. The military is still one of the strongest supporters of phage therapy research and development, because phages have proven so useful for wound and burn infections as well as for preventing debilitating gastrointestinal epidemics among the troops.

The emergence of pathogenic bacteria resistant to most, if not all, currently available antimicrobial agents has become a critical problem in modern medicine, particularly because of the concomitant increase in immunosuppressed patients. The concern that humankind is reentering the "preantibiotics" era has become very real, and the development of alternative antiinfection modalities has become one of the highest priorities of modern medicine and biotechnology.