‘This is why we’re here’: A Winnipeg biotech company’s role in a new treatment used in Canada

A Winnipeg biotech company is being celebrated for its role in a first-of-its-kind treatment in Canada.

It’s called phage therapy and it was used to treat a serious resistant infection.

“Bacteria phages are actually viruses that only infect bacteria. So they don’t infect human cells, animal cells, or event plant cells,” said Dr. Steven Theriault, the CEO of Cytophage Technologies.

The therapy is antimicrobial and works where other medications do not. Cytophage is at the forefront of research and development.

“We’re a team of scientists that are synthetic biologists as well as trained virologists or people that work on viruses. And what we do is we unlock the potential of bacteria phages.

Theriault said there are many types of bacteria phage but noted the one his company works is like a lunar lander.

“If you can think of it as landing on the mood, it would be landing on a bacterial cell, then it will compress itself and inject its genetic information into the bacteria.”

The virus then replicates inside the cell, eventually destroying it.

“So producing another wave of killing bacteria phage to kill off more bacteria.”

Now that therapy is being used – when antibiotics failed for one Ottawa woman.

“She had early signs of sepsis, she had low grade fevers, chills, increasing hip pain,” said Dr. Marisa Azad, an infectious disease physician at the Ottawa Hospital. “That’s when I knew right then and there, we need to think creatively about this infection, because now this is life threatening.”

Azad turned to the phage therapy to treat her patient suffering from a chronic artificial joint infection.

“I had gone through her chart, and I had seen that she had one of the worst prosthetic joint infections I’ve seen in my career.”

Cytophage developed phages specifically designed to target this patient’s infection. The treatment was administered through injections and an IV line.

“We saw that signs of inflammation in the body started to go down with subsequent dosing of the phage, and drainage, or leakage from the hip also stopped.”

It was the first time the therapy was used in Canada and it potentially saved the patient’s life.

“When I think about it, I think about my staff, and I think about when they see what we’re actually doing. We actually helped somebody…taking it from the bench to home. This is why we’re here.”

The doctors received special approval from Health Canada, as part of a single-patient clinical trial. The research team is now trying to get approval to treat more patients with similar conditions.

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