Phage film receives UK debut at University of Leicester

More than 100 researchers, clinicians, and members of the public from across the UK gathered at the University of Leicester for the screening of an internationally-acclaimed documentary on Wednesday.

Guests headed to the Attenborough Film Theatre for the UK big screen debut of Salt in My Soul, based on the posthumously-published memoir of Mallory Smith, who documented her fight against cystic fibrosis through journal entries, video clips and audio recordings.

Mallory died at the age of 25 from antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to antibiotic treatments following a double lung transplant. The film shows how, in the final hours of her life, Mallory received phage therapy – a novel treatment for so-called ‘superbugs’ – of which Leicester researcher Professor Martha Clokie is considered a leading expert.

Sadly, the phages were administered too late to save Mallory’s life. But her autopsy revealed proof of concept: the phages had reached their targets and were starting to work.

Professor Clokie offered Mallory’s mother Diane Shader Smith and the film’s director, Will Battersby, an in-depth tour of Leicester’s world-leading bacteriophage lab, which seeks to identify and produce naturally-occurring phages to combat infections in patients who have otherwise stopped responding to antibiotic treatments.

Martha Clokie, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Leicester, said: “In the same way that you or I might get a viral infection, bacteria can get viral infections too. These ‘bacteriophages’, which literally means bacteria ‘eaters’, occur in nature, and so our research involves identifying which phages combat which infections.

“Mallory’s story is hugely moving, and really shines a light on the dangers of antimicrobial resistance. Beyond the numbers of patients with AMR, she was a real person with a real story to tell, and that’s very powerful.”

Mallory Smith with her mother, Diane Shader Smith, in a still from documentary film Salt in My Soul. Credit: Giant Pictures

Diane Shader Smith, an author in her own right and editor of Mallory’s posthumous book Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life which inspired the film, said: “Mallory didn’t have to die. We call it a preventable tragedy. But people didn’t know enough about AMR, they didn’t really understand how phages could play a role, and it was very hard to get them for her. By the time she received them it was too late.

“We hope that both through this film and by shining a light on the phage research going on around the world – including here in Leicester – that more can be done to help people like Mallory in the future.”

Guests at the film screening also had the opportunity to hear from some of the scientists at the cutting edge of phage research as part of a panel discussion and public Q&A.

Since bacteriophages occur in nature, they cannot be trademarked in the same way as conventional drugs or treatments and therefore research in this area is largely led by not-for-profit academic researchers.

Professor Clokie hopes to become a founding member of a new UK Phage Network which would enable greater collaboration between phage researchers, and in future provide a ‘bank’ of well-understood phage therapies which could be used to treat lung infections, urinary tract infections and digestive disorders in patients who could not otherwise receive a successful course of antibiotics.

Salt in My Soul is currently available to UK viewers via Apple TV, Prime Video and Vimeo.