New genetically modified bacteria “tricks” the body into healing chronic wounds

Biotherapy for faster wound healing in people with diabetes

New genetically modified bacteria “tricks” the body into healing chronic wounds

“Lactobacteria produce a protein that makes the body believe that the wound is greater than it actually is and accelerates the healing process”, says Evelina Vågesjö, doctor of physiology and immunology specialist at Uppsala University.

The project is currently at the end of its pre-clinical phase. A major study on miniature pigs lies ahead, as well as the production of a first large-scale batch of bacteria. The hope is to begin testing on healthy volunteers before the turn of the year 2017/18.

Diabetics suffer from impaired circulation, which makes wounds difficult to heal and often chronic.

“At least 18 per cent of all diabetics have at least one wound that won’t heal, yet wound care is generally underprioritised in this group. If they’re lucky, patients receive treatment from multidisciplinary [SE1] teams; however, their wound is not their primary disease. A new treatment that actually works could save a lot of money in healthcare”, says Evelina Vågesjö.

No good alternatives available

The lactic acid bacteria are supplied with a gene that makes them produce a human protein that “tricks” the body’s immune system into believing that the wound is significantly larger.

“Today there are no drug options. There are different types of dressing but it has been difficult to prove their clinical effect. There are some biological drug candidates – growth factors – in the late development phase, but they have a very small therapeutic window and some programmes have been discontinued. Above all, the drugs become very expensive and must be administered more often compared to the rate at which the wounds are normally re-dressed.”

The wound-healing bacteria are freeze-dried, revived with water and applied to the wound:

“The technique is not dose-dependent in a classical sense. The finished product will be easy to use in the regular healthcare and at about a tenth of the current cost of other biological drugs”, says Evelina Vågesjö.

Team excited to move forward

In her team you also find expertise in immunophysiology, microbiology, management experience from pharmaceutical and medical technology companies, as well as medical expertise in the care of acute wounds. In addition, her team includes three senior regulatory experts linked to the development work, and one employed microbiologist. In total, the project employs 12 people.

Evelina Vågesjö’s project has received funding from Swelife twice.

“Swelife has really studied the content of the project and seen its possibilities. We’ve also received a lot of help in meeting advisors. We’re now applying for further funding and we’re very motivated. We recently corporatised the project and named it Ilya Pharma, after Ilya Mechnikov who received the Nobel Prize in 1908 for important discoveries about our immune system. He is also considered the father of probiotics.”

Updated 12 June 2017

Text: Jörgen Olsson