Bacteriophage therapy

Bacteriophage therapy can be used as a treatment for bacterial infections and is an alternative for a treatment with antibiotics.

Bacteriophages are the natural enemies of bacteria. They recognise and infect their target bacteria, enabling the bacteria to produce new bacteriophages. Ultimately the bacteria will burst and release new bacteriophages in the area, which in turn can infect other bacteria, restarting the process. 


How does bacteriophage therapy work?

Bacteriophages (phages) are the natural enemies of bacteria. Strictly lytic phages recognise and infect their target bacteria, transforming the bacteria into a ‘phage-producing machine’. Ultimately, the bacteria burst and releases new phages in the environment, enabling them to infect other bacteria, after which the process can be repeated (Figure 1).

The therapeutic potential of phages is apparent from: 

  • The capacity for ‘self-amplification’. This is a contributing factor for the efficacy of phage therapy and distinguishes phages from conventional antibiotics. 
  • The presence of depolymerases on the tail structures of some phages, which can degrade the extracellular matrix of biofilm-forming bacteria. 
  • The high specificity of phages for their bacterial host. Human cells or the human bacterial flora is not influenced by phages. 
  • The fact that phage therapy is not influenced by antibiotic resistance mechanisms.

Figure 1: Life cycle of a lytic bacteriophage. Source: Onsea et al. Eur Cell Mater. 2020; 39:193-210.

Who is eligible?

The following strictly defined infection disease qualify for bacteriophage therapy:

  • Chronic rhinosinusitis
  • Pulmonary infections: bronchiectasis and cystic fibrosis
  • Musculoskeletal infections
  • Sepsis (blood poisoning)

For the time being, bacteriophage therapy is only available for patients that meet a number of strict conditions. The Coordination group for Bacteriophage therapgy Leuven (CBL) assesses the indication setting, but also checks whether there are no other alternative standard treatments available. Only if this is the case, the patient is eligible for phage therapy. 

The CBL consists of infectiologists, intensivists, hospital pharmacists, microbiologists, pneumologists, surgeons and scientists.

Referral procedure

For the time being, bacteriophage therapy is only possible if the patient meets a number of strict conditions. As a result of this, only doctors can refer patients.  

  • GPs and specialists: contact via

  • Patients with questions about bacteriophage therapy are asked to contact their GP or attending doctor. 

Last edit: 22 June 2023