EpiBiome: Livestock without Antibiotics


Liberal treatment of livestock with antibiotics to increase growth rates is one of the leading causes of antibiotic resistance in humans. Bacteriophages, or “phages,” are viruses that infect only bacteria and as such, provide an alternative to antibiotics. In contrast to the FDA, the favorable regulatory stance of the USDA towards phages suggests that replacing antibiotics with phages in livestock offers a compelling commercial opportunity.

Due to the highly specific nature of phages, pooled phages must be used to treat an unknown infection to ensure that the correct phage is administered. We will generate pools of phages effective in killing common pathogenic bacteria in livestock by isolating phages from their feces and farm water runoff, and screening these against cultures collected from infected livestock over the course of a year. Lytic phages that kill the cultured bacterial isolates will be enriched, purified, and manufactured (a la Intralytix, Inc.). We will obtain from the USDA “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) status on these phage pools for inclusion in livestock feed.

Agriculture accounts for 80% of all antibiotic sales; in 2011, 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for livestock production, dwarfing the 7.7 million pounds used by humans (Pew Charitable Trusts). 81% of raw ground turkey and 55% of ground beef now test positive for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a likely result of antibiotic overuse. In response, the FDA announced an initiative this month to phase out many antibiotics in farm production. Targeted phage pools are a promising candidate to replace antibiotics while maintaining the productivity increase they afford. The USDA has taken a favorable stance on phages, giving three phage pools GRAS status for inclusion in food intended for human consumption to control contamination by E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. The current USDA regulatory landscape and FDA sentiment create an ideal market opportunity for phages in livestock.

The target market for EpiBiome’s phage based treatments is the multibillion-dollar US livestock industry, as it is currently challenged to maintain its ability to meet both domestic and international demands in light of recent FDA regulatory shifts to limit antibiotics use in farming. EpiBiome is poised to prioritize the discovery of phages useful against the most problematic pathogens (e.g., Salmonella is found to occur in ~ 32% swine samples) to address the most immediate social needs. However, the technology is generally applicable for the broad range of medically resistant bacterial strains that pose health problems.