Phages are the natural enemy of bacteria and have evolved to be specific to a particular strain. The potential to use a phage to detect tuberculosis is part of ground-breaking research by Professor Catherine Rees, Professor of Microbiology in the School of Biosciences, at the University of Nottingham, UK, and co-founder of PBD Biotech.
Her contribution to the field of microbiology has been recognised by The Microbiology Society with its Translational Microbiology Prize 2024.
Excellence in microbiology
The Microbiology Society prizes recognise excellence, and are based on nominations received from the membership. Winners are selected for their work to advance understanding of microbiology and their role in addressing global challenges.
For Prof. Rees this has been a key role in developing a new phage-based diagnostic for tuberculosis.
She studied Biochemistry at the University of Oxford, UK, followed by a PhD in Bacterial Genetics at the University of Leicester, UK. Her research focus on applying molecular techniques to the study of applied microbiology, with specific interest in the study of Listeria and Mycobacteria in food and agricultural systems.
Recent research has resulted in the development of a rapid, phage-based test for the detection of mycobacterial pathogens, including M. tuberculosis in humans and M. paratuberculosis and M. bovis in animals.
Phage-based diagnostic for TB
Publication of this work led to the establishment of PBD Biotech Ltd, where Professor Rees was CSO until 2022. It has attracted nearly £5 million investment to commercially develop the phage test as the Actiphage TB diagnostic.
The potential of Actiphage to improve animal diagnostics for the intractable mycobacterial diseases Bovine TB and Johne’s Disease was recognised in 2019 when PBD Biotech was awarded The Royal Dairy Innovation Award for R&D in the field of dairy farming. This was followed more recently by the British Veterinary Association 2021 Innovation Award.
Currently, the company has focussed on developing Actiphage TB as a rapid human diagnostic test, with promising results gained in early clinical trials.
Since stepping down from her role in the company, Professor Rees has joined the Government Advisory Committee on the Microbial Safety of Food, the Advisory Board for the Innovate UK KTN Phage Innovation Network and has become a Trustee of Applied Microbiology International.
Translational Microbiology Prize 2024
Commenting on receiving the Translational Microbiology Prize 2024, Professor Rees said:
“I am delighted to have been awarded the Translational Microbiology Prize by the Microbiology Society. The Actiphage project represents years of endeavour by a large number of talented scientists, who have contributed to the success of this project in different ways. Thank you to you all.
“And thank you to the Society for dedicating a prize recognising the value of translational research, which is often overlooked.”
The recipient of the Translational Microbiology Prize is awarded £1,000.
Read more about the 2024 Prize Winners at microbiologysociety.org.
The Microbiology Society will award the winners their prizes at its Annual Conference 2024 in Edinburgh from 8-11 April, where the winners will present their Prize Lectures.