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The Keys to Accessing Smart Medicines

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bacteriophages-antibiotic resistant-infections-smart medicine-anti infectives

Every week, my team works tirelessly to give hope to people suffering from life-threatening antibiotic-resistant infections. Who they are may surprise you.

Dr. Austen Terwilliger


Dr. Austen Terwilliger is an academic researcher with extensive experience in molecular microbiology, bacterial pathogenesis, wastewater epidemiology, and phage biology. He has published dozens of scientific articles, both as a first and corresponding author, and has been an invited speaker at program seminars and local and national conferences. As the co-founder of TAILΦR LABS, he directed the development, manufacture, and administration of dozens of compassionate use phage therapies.

Rather than the elderly or chronically ill, people of all ages, including children, are in peril because antibiotics, once our go-to cure, are losing their effectiveness. At TAILΦR LABS, a non-profit research center at Baylor College of Medicine, we are pioneering a promising alternative to traditional antibiotics — bacteriophages.

Why bacteriophage? 

Bacteriophages, or phages, are viruses that kill bacteria. These viruses, like bacteria, exist ubiquitously, not only throughout Earth but within our bodies. They are so abundant they outnumber stars in the known universe, representing a boundless supply of potential antibiotics to combat bacterial infections. 


The root of the antibiotic resistance crisis is change. The bacteria change, but our medicines do not. Classical antibiotics are chemically locked compounds. If we want to change them, it may take 10 years and up to $1 billion to bring to the market. But bacteria change fast; so fast that resistance can develop within months of an antibiotic’s introduction to the world. 

Enter phage. Unlike antibiotics, a phage uses the same mechanisms bacteria do to change, and fast. Phages are smart medicines that can be harnessed to adapt to bacteria in ways that not only kill resistant bacteria, but possibly prevent resistance altogether. 

Tactical deployment 

Phages have been used for more than a century, but only recently has technology and new knowledge emerged that permits scientists to harness their full bacterial busting power. 

TAILΦR Labs was founded on the idea that phages, under the right conditions, can be customized as a personalized medicine to treat the most problematic of bacterial infections. However, this personalization limits treatment optimization, and we are only beginning to appreciate the intricate relationships between the phages, their bacterial targets, and the patients they treat. 

Professor Anthony Maresso, co-founder of TAILΦR, refers to this as “addressing the natural history of infection.” Each phage, Maresso says, has a personality that must be appreciated; know the phage and its target, and you begin to appreciate how to use them. 

Phiogen, a new biopharma start-up born of TAILΦR’s R&D efforts, will leverage new technologies to find the rarest of elite phages to address specific bacterial challenges.

The road ahead

While phages hold immense promise, we need the same support systems developed for traditional antibiotics, such as rapid diagnostic tools, sensitivity assays, and robust manufacturing pipelines.


To meet these demands, we are heavily investing in single-use solutions that streamline manufacturing, reduce setup time, and minimize cross-contamination risks. Such efforts are further bolstered by our upcoming move to the state-of-the-art Helix Park campus, equipped with a GMP [Good Manufacturing Practice] facility that will expand our capacity to offer high-quality and effective phages at reduced cost.

By discovering nature’s already wonderful solutions and enhancing their capabilities through technology, phage can become the next great generation of anti-infectives.

To learn more, visit bcm.edu/research/research-centers/tailor

This article was paid for by Cellexus.

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