Beer-Sheva, Israel—Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have identified new drug candidates to combat pathogenic bacteria and treat various inflammatory conditions, based on molecules isolated by probiotic Kefir yogurt.

The research was published inMicrobiomeand led by Orit Malka, a Ph.D. student of Professor Raz Jelinek, VP of BGU and Dean of Research and Development.

"These results are notable, since this is the first demonstration that virulence of human pathogenic bacteria can be mitigated by molecules secreted in probiotic milk products, such as yogurt or kefir," said Prof. Jelinek in a press release. "Our research illuminates the mechanism by which milk fermented probiotics can protect against pathogenic infections and aid the immune system. Following promising results in animal models, we look forward to administering these drug candidates to patients who are experiencing a cytokine storm due to COVID-19 infection, or people suffering from acute inflammatory bowel pathologies, such as Crohn’s disease."

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Kefir is a fermented probiotic dairy drink made by infusing cow or goat milk with kefir grains containing yeast and lactic acid bacteria, according to the press release. The BGU researchers demonstrated that the kefir-secreted molecules were able to significantly reduce virulence of the bacterium that causes cholera,Vibrio cholerae. The molecules disrupted communication between the bacterial cells, which is a promising approach against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In a follow-up study, the researchers observed that the molecules had anti-inflammatory properties in various pathological conditions and disease models. For example, the press release explains, experimental results found that the kefir molecules effectively healed mice inflicted with a lethal cytokine storm, not only eliminating the storm but also restoring balance to the immune system.

The researchers have formed a new company to develop and commercialize the technology through BGN Technologies, the BGU technology transfer company.

"In a world where antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming an imminent threat, the novel molecules discovered by BGU scientists pave a completely new path for fighting bacterial infections by disrupting cell-cell communications in pathogenic bacteria,” said Josh Peleg, CEO of BGN Technologies. “Moreover, the dramatic anti-inflammatory activities of the molecules may open new avenues for therapeutics and scientifically proven probiotic food products. Years of breakthrough research have now reached a validation point that led to the establishment of a biopharma company for the further development and clinical evaluation of this exciting new technology that can potentially revolutionize the treatment of bacterial infections as well as inflammatory conditions."