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Re-introduction of phage therapy in military medicine

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Human Factors and Medicine

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antibiotic resistance, Bacteria, bacteriophages, biocontrol, biodefense, drug resistance, infection prevention and control, infection surveillance, phages, prophylaxis, public health threats, therapy


Since time immemorial, bacteriophages (phages in short) – the viruses of bacteria – control their hosts, the bacteria, on our planet. Phage therapy is the therapeutic use of phages to treat pathogenic bacterial infections. Phages are much more specific than antibiotics. They are harmless to humans, animals and plants (to all eukaryotes), but also to other beneficial bacteria (such as the gut flora), reducing the chances of opportunistic infections. Human phage therapy was first practiced in France in 1919, when Felix d'Hérelle successfully treated children suffering from severe dysentery, using the phages he had isolated from the stools of soldiers. In the 1930s, therapeutic phages were marketed in Europe and in the United States by major pharmaceutical companies including Eli Lilly, Squibb & Sons (today Bristol-Meyers Squibb) and the Swan-Meyers division of Abbott Laboratories. After the Second World War and the advent of antibiotics, which got the preference of Western industry and policy makers, scientists in the Soviet Union continued to apply this therapy, but due to the Cold War their research results did not reach the West. Today, antibacterial resistance is a growing threat to the global health community with fewer drugs in the pipeline to combat bacterial infections. One of the promising “new” antimicrobial treatments that is increasingly highlighted – inter alia during the 2016 UN General Assembly – is phage therapy. HFM-ET-174 on “The reintroduction of phage therapy in military medicine” met in Brussels on 18-19 June 2018 to analyze the current and future potential efforts in phage therapy (research) in NATO Member States.


1. The RTG will inventorize relevant knowledge, beyond usual literature reviews, by attempting to access the results of all relevant phage therapy studies, which were performed mainly in former Soviet Republics and in Eastern Europe over the past century. The goal is to compile a true state of the art in order to avoid duplication of research efforts. 2. The RTG will design evidence-based phage therapy protocols for military settings/indications. The dissemination of this knowledge should allow countries with no current own capacity for phage therapy to actually implement phage therapy with a low threshold.


1. Human therapy (consensus state of the art protocols) 2. Prophylaxis (consensus state of the art protocols) 3. Infection prevention and control (consensus strategies) 4. Infection surveillance (review of phage-based diagnostics) 5. Disinfection/decontamination (consensus state of the art protocols) 6. Biocontrol (consensus strategies)

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