“I am a strong believer in the potential of phage therapies”
May 2019 | Interview
Interviewee: Prof. Dr. Johan Garssen, Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of CURE, is an Immunologist with a big experience in immune-microbiome interactions. He is Head of Immunopharmacology in the Division of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Utrecht University as well as the Director of the Immunology platform at Danone/Nutricia-research for specialised nutrition.
Interviewer: Sofia Romagosa Vilarnau, Junior Projects and Engagement Officer at the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA)
Prof. Dr. Garssen what is the field of research you are currently involved in?
In general, my main fields of research are allergies, infections, COPD, IBD, oncology, HIV, immune maturation, immune imprinting and immunomodulation/regulation. A significant part of my current research portfolio is, however, focused on allergy management. I am working on new concepts or ideas to prevent allergy, and with my team we are trying to develop new interventions, drugs and nutrition in order to manage immune related disorders such as allergies and asthma.
Cure proposes that reinstating eubiosis within the asthmatic airways through phage therapy may be able to control the immune dysregulation and clinical presentation of the disease. What do you think about the role of infections in asthma and especially in provoking imbalances in the respiratory microbiome? Do you believe that phage therapy can be a solution?
I strongly believe that the microbiome influences the immune system, leading to more or less allergies depending on the microbiome or virome. In general we know that certain infections, especially at an early stage of life, can create a risk for the development of asthma and allergy later on in life. However, certain infections or the exposure to certain viruses and other microbes can also play a role in the inhibition of the development of allergy and asthma. In this sense, it sounds quite logic to think that microbes/viruses/phages can be used for prevention and for therapies.
I am a strong believer in the potential of phage therapies. More research is needed though. We need to do experiments, intervention trials, pre-clinical and clinical trials to validate the efficiency of these therapies and understand how to apply them in allergy prevention, treatments and new therapies.
The current traditional pharmaceutical approach is not always working and sometimes, even if it works, patients have to deal with side-effects of the therapies. Thus, it is wise idea to look into other concepts, such as the one we are discussing now. This is exactly why I am so happy with the whole concept and idea of the CURE project.
What is the Scientific Advisory Board’s role in CURE?
As an advisory board member, I am an independent reviewer of the research within this program. We are here to advise the researchers but also listen in what direction the project is moving. I took part in several projects and I always loved to have debates with other independent advisors to exchange ideas and opinions. This is what we should do in CURE. For now, there has been only informal contact with the researches. But the Scientific Advisory Board will have regular meetings at a later stage, to discuss the progress and the results reached so far and to give further advice to the researchers.
What are your views on the role that CURE can play within the discussion in Europe on the clinical use of phage therapy?
This new type of therapy has a high potential, but regulators are concerned about the lack of evidence in relation to its safety. We do not have a real vision of the possible risks or side-effects of phage therapy. As mentioned earlier, I am a strong believer in the concept but before accepting it as a regular reimbursed technology, we need more time to do more research and have discussions between the Scientific Advisory Board and the CURE researchers to do the study in a proper way.
I think that the CURE project will have an important impact in the western medicine. It depends on how we will do our job, but hopefully CURE will lead to more attention for this new type of therapy in Europe.