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Improving treatment of cystic fibrosis with seaweed

Developing new therapies to tackle life-threatening, drug-resistant bacterial lung infections.

Seaweed under water

Cystic fibrosis is an incurable genetic condition which causes the organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, to become clogged with thick sticky mucus. Bacterial colonisation of patients’ lungs eventually leads to chronic infection.

The situation is made worse by the rising numbers of bacteria that don’t respond to antibiotics, making these chronic infections difficult to treat.

The Advanced Therapies Group (Professor David Thomas, Dr Katja Hill, Dr Lydia Powell, Dr Manon Pritchard and Dr Elaine Ferguson) are working to develop a new treatment from seaweed for this debilitating disease and other chronic infections.

"The translational research performed in Prof. Thomas’s group provides us with a greater understanding of the mechanisms involved in treating multi-drug-resistant bacterial infections with our alginate oligomer therapeutics. We are working together to bring these developments to the clinic in the form of new treatments for infections in diseases such as cystic fibrosis and non-healing skin wounds."

Dr Phil Rye, R&D Director, Algipharma AS, Sandvika, Norway

Developing a drug

For the last nine years they have worked in collaboration with the Norwegian company AlgiPharma AS. Together they have developed an inhalation therapy to help remove the thick stagnant mucus and bacterial biofilms that characterise chronic lung disease in cystic fibrosis patients. They are now working with scientists and clinicians around the world to test and develop the drug, called OligoG, for clinical use.

Using specialised microscopy techniques and microbiological assays, the group have shown that OligoG is able to impair and disrupt bacterial biofilm growth in the laboratory. They have also shown that it can make antibiotics more effective against resistant bacteria. OligoG therefore has exciting potential that could prolong the life of cystic fibrosis patients. OligoG, the drug candidate for cystic fibrosis now has Orphan Drug designation from both the European Medicines Agency and the US Federal Drugs Administration.

Improving lung clearance in cystic fibrosis patients

Chronic infection and mucus over-production in cystic fibrosis favours the accumulation of bacteria in the lungs, restricting the access of antibiotics and hampering effective treatment. The agent OligoG effectively breaks down this mucus "barrier" allowing lung clearance, and enhances treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in these life-limiting lung infections.

Clinical trials

While the research is continuing in the laboratory, Phase I and Phase II clinical trials have established that OligoG is safe and well tolerated in cystic fibrosis patients. Two Phase IIb clinical trials are also nearing completion in cystic fibrosis patients, with patients recruited across multiple locations in several European countries.

Meet our experts

Professor Dave W Thomas

Professor Dave W Thomas

Professor/Hon Consultant in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, Programme Director Implant Dentistry, Director Wales Integrated Academic Training programme in Dentistry, School of Dentistry, URI Innovation Lead

+44 (0)29 207 44873
Dr Katja Hill

Dr Katja Hill

Senior Lecturer in Oral Microbiology

+44 (0)29 225 10661