The increasing problem of antibiotic-resistant pathogens has put enormous pressure on healthcare providers to reduce the application of antibiotics and to identify alternative therapies. Phages represent such an alternative with significant application potential, either on their own or in combination with antibiotics to enhance the effectiveness of traditional therapies. However, while phage therapy may offer exciting therapeutic opportunities, its evaluation for safe and appropriate use in humans needs to be guided initially by reliable and appropriate assessment techniques at the laboratory level. Here, we review the process of phage isolation and the application of individual pathogens or reference collections for the development of specific or “off-the-shelf” preparations. Furthermore, we evaluate current characterization approaches to assess the in vitro therapeutic potential of a phage including its spectrum of activity, genome characteristics, storage and administration requirements and effectiveness against biofilms. Lytic characteristics and the ability to overcome anti-phage systems are also covered. These attributes direct phage selection for their ultimate application as antimicrobial agents. We also discuss current pitfalls in this research area and propose that priority should be given to unify current phage characterization approaches.
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