The US Army has awarded a contract to develop bacteriophages to treat uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) infections to the South Korean biotech company iNtRON Biotechnology.

The project was selected through the US Army’s foreign technology assessment support (FTAS) programme by the US Army DEVCOM (US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command) International Technology Centre Indo-Pacific and Solider Centre.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined antibiotic resistance as a global threat needing urgent intervention. WHO has set up a Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP) to develop and deliver up to four new treatments by 2023.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) reports that five million people died globally in 2019 due to antibiotic resistance. In response, multiple start-ups are developing drugs to overcome antibiotic resistance.

iNtRON BD department head Dr Ji-soo Son said: “Urinary tract infections require treatment through prolonged antibiotic administration, but in environments where continuous antibiotic usage is not easy, there’s a significant risk of recurrence and chronicity.

“Bacteriophages can overcome the shortcomings of general antibiotics, making them highly suitable for combating UTIs.”

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iNtRON has a proprietary Phagerus platform, which can be used for bacteriophage-specific gene editing and virus control. The South Korean company plans to use the platform to develop vaccines and therapeutics.

Moreover, iNtRON’s CEO stated that the US Army contract could serve as a “stepping stone for entering the US defence market”.

The US Army plans to use the bacteriophage therapy to treat urinary tract infections acquired by its soldiers as part of their deployment or training in remote environments with limited access to water, electricity, and medical facilities.