Chemical controls for many important and damaging pests are failing, while concerns over toxicity are increasing. But alternatives to chemicals do exist.
Biological control provides a viable alternative which has been extensively validated in the agricultural sector. A number of pests are controlled with biological agents and the extension of such methods into the control of arthropods of medical importance has significant potential for product development.
Existing agricultural applications provide a technological and regulatory basis for such development. However, in agricultural use, biological control agents are typically limited by many factors present in that setting, including wide dispersal of targets, high levels of ultraviolet light, wind, rain and many other factors which are of far more limited relevance in the domestic setting, where high pest densities are seen in constant, controlled environments.
Biological control is highly specific in nature, and is perceived as environmentally friendly. This is an important element of the approach. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that “Since biopesticides tend to pose fewer risks than conventional pesticides, EPA generally requires much less data to register a biopesticide”.
Two medically important arthropods will be targeted initially: dust mites and bed bugs. Both dust mites (as a primary cause of asthma attacks and sensitization) and bed bugs (as a biting insect present in bedding that can trigger strong allergic reactions) are current problems with significant and rising unmet need due to limited control options. The US CDC has noted that asthma prevalence is at its highest ever level, with 26 million sufferers in the USA alone. The CDC also noted that dust mites are a primary trigger for asthma attacks, with clinical benefit resulting from reduced exposure. For bed bugs, the CDC noted an “alarming resurgence”, with public health agencies being “overwhelmed”. The most cited cause for this is an ongoing lack of effective and acceptable controls.
Biological agents have the potential to address this need, offering reduced safety concerns along with the potential for long-lasting, effective control.