Phage Therapy for Nontuberculous Mycobacteria: Challenges and Opportunities.

30 Dec 2022
Hatfull GF

Non-tuberculous mycobacterium (NTM) infections are often clinically challenging, with lengthy antibiotic regimens that fail to resolve the infections with few good outcomes remaining. Mycobacteriophages-viruses that infect Mycobacterium hosts-show promise as therapeutic agents for NTM infections and have been used in 20 compassionate use cases. Favorable outcomes were observed in many but not all cases, although the phages show exceptional safety profiles and no evidence of phage resistance was observed, even when only a single phage was administered. Phage-specific antibodies are commonly present following intravenous administration and are often neutralizing for the phage in vitro. However, phage neutralization does not consistently correlate with poor treatment outcomes and may not be a therapeutic limitation in all patients, even when immunocompetent. Currently, the therapeutic potential of phages is substantially limited by the great variation in phage susceptibility and a relatively small repertoire of therapeutically useful phages. As many as 45% of clinical isolates can have a smooth colony morphotype, and phages that both efficiently infect and kill these strains have yet to be described. In contrast, ~ 75% of rough strains are susceptible to and killed by one or more phages and therapeutic options can be considered on a compassionate use basis. Although therapies must currently be personalized, elucidating the determinants of phage host specificity, expanding the useful phage repertoire, and identifying the key determinants of clinical outcomes will reveal their full therapeutic potential.