New York-based cosmetics and personal care ingredient manufacturer Biocogent leverages its biotech roots with its approach to targeted skin care. DermaPhage products that “are infused with a unique combination of at least three bacteriophages (or simply phages) that uniquely target a specific bacterial member of the skin microbiome…offer specificity when seeking to modulate the levels of a particular bacterial constituent of the normal skin microbiota, which can improve various skin conditions” like acne, as detailed on the company’s website.
To learn more about topical phage therapy for cosmetic applications, including the development behind DermaPhage and the potential for further innovation using bacteriophages in skin care, CosmeticsDesign interviewed Dr. Paul Lawrence, Executive Director of Research and Discovery at Biocogent, for his insights.
CDU: What is the potential impact of technological development and phage release on manufacturers and suppliers in the cosmetics and personal beauty care industry?
Dr. Paul Lawrence (Poland): In an era of increasing antimicrobial resistance, the antibacterial bacteriophage platform has the potential to be transformative in many ways. This technology provides an alternative to the prescription of topical antibiotics for the treatment of many skin diseases caused by bacteria, which does not have an accompanying negative impact on the beneficial members of the microbiota.
Furthermore, as our understanding continues to grow of the importance of the skin microbiome in relation to skin health, so will the desire to use this knowledge to develop and commercialize more “microbiome-modulating” cosmetic care products in hopes of improving many skin conditions that are a bacterial culprit. The beauty of bacteriophages is their species specificity – they target only one bacterial species (sometimes even one strain of a particular species).
Therefore, this platform allows for “precise modulation” of the skin microbiota without any unwanted collateral damage. Ambient bacteria and other microbes are not affected by this bioactive material, while reducing the intended target.
CDU: Can you share some background on the concept, development and formulation processes behind phage technology launch?
PL: Every bacteriophage project starts with a target bacterial species that has been shown to be responsible for a particular skin condition. Once this is established, a “phage hunt” begins, screening several different environmental samples for a minimum of 3 different natural bacteriophages uniquely targeting the bacteria of interest.
The presence of three separate bacteriophages helps prevent target bacteria from becoming resistant to their antibacterial lytic cycle – the potential for resistance to develop is greatly reduced by this approach. The bacteriophages are then characterized structurally, genetically and physiologically in the laboratory.
This is followed by safety evaluations in cell culture and on skin tissue. A key aspect of the project’s research is to assess how the bacteriophage cocktail affects a model of skin tissue infused with the target bacteria – is there any harmful effect? Do bacteriophages effectively reduce target population size? Does the reduced level of bacteria have a beneficial effect on the skin tissue?
Once efficacy and safety have been established, a key follow-up effort is to evaluate the stability of bacteriophages in a carrier solution as well as in the presence of common off-the-shelf formulation components. These are all considerations in the conception, development and formulation of phage technology.
CDU: Were there any development challenges that had to be overcome to launch? If so, what were those challenges and what solutions were implemented?
PL: Like any new technology representing a paradigm shift for the industry, certain hurdles are to be expected. One such challenge for commercializing the bacteriophage platform is the refrigeration requirement.
Bacteriophage preparations have known problems with thermal stability, so most manufacturers encourage refrigeration of products. This issue was addressed through marketing campaigns demonstrating that the refrigerated storage requirement suggested to consumers that there was indeed something in the formulas.
Also, from a technical point of view, there are ongoing efforts to use lyophilization of bacteriophages as an alternative approach.
CDU: Any plans for further innovation in this space?
PL: Because bacteriophages are the most abundant part of planet Earth’s biosphere, they represent a limitless resource for scientists trying to modify the bacterial component of the human microbiome in precise ways. So there are future plans to research bacteriophages that can counteract other problematic skin bacteria.
CDU: Can you explain the difference between the terms “microbiome-specific” and “microbiome-sparing” and the importance of distinguishing between these terms as they apply to phage technology?
PL: As mentioned above, the appeal of bacteriophages as a “microbiome modulation platform” stems from their remarkable species specificity (indeed many times they are strain specific). As such, this platform qualifies as what we describe as “microbiome-selective” (or what others may call “microbiome-specific”) – selectively reducing a distinct population of bacterial members of the microbiome without adversely affecting on surrounding “neighbors”.
Others have used the more nebulous term “microbiome friendly,” which is harder to define and there are differing opinions on what that entails. Again, this is why the scientists at Biocogent decided to adopt the term “selective microbiome” because it accurately reflects the activity of bacteriophages and can be supported by scientific data.
HDS: Anything else to add?
PL: I think it’s interesting when bacteriophages are looked at from different perspectives. On the one hand, they have been the natural predator of bacteria on Earth for approximately 3 billion years. Their antibacterial utility was discovered and applied decades before the advent of antibiotic drugs.
In modern times, with the looming public health crisis of antimicrobial resistance, bacteriophages represent the most viable alternative to prevent disease from resistant bacterial species. So while beauty care scientists are exploring this platform to promote skin health, it’s one thread in a much larger tapestry.