Jelinek and Malka induced cytokine storms in mice. Then they watched what happened.
The mice that had the storm and were not treated died. But the mice that were treated with the molecules they found in the yogurt had a complete recovery. The molecules not only eliminated the cytokine storm, they also restored balance to the immune system.
“This was really remarkable,” Jelinek said.
The scientists said they also administered the molecules to the mice via their mouths; they were placed in water and entered the mice’s digestive systems just like a normal drink.
During the pandemic, Jelinek and Malka had hoped they could administer these molecules to patients who were in critical condition. But regulatory hurdles delayed the process, and they did not succeed, Jelinek said. Now, their next step is to conduct clinical trials with other cytokine storms.
“Cytokine storms don’t only happen with COVID,” Jelinek said. “This is a very bad condition with really very few treatments against it.”
The researchers are about to make a start-up company under the BGN Technologies umbrella for further development and commercialization of the technology. The company should formally be launched within the next few weeks, and then they will raise funds to conduct clinical experiments, Jelinek said. Hopefully, trials will begin within a few months, he said.
Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist for the Weizmann Institute of Science who has published extensively on the subject of probiotics, said that “I am a strong believer in the concept of probiotics when given for the right indications and after proper research and showing some benefits.”
On the other hand, he said, “a lot of probiotics that are given, don’t do anything.”
“The potential is huge,” he added. “I think it is still in the early days.”
The path from the lab to the table is likely to be long, Jelinek admitted. Even though the molecules come from yogurt that people could eat every day, they would be considered a drug and will have to undergo the full scrutiny of any new medicine before receiving approval, Jelinek said.
As such, the company will likely take the molecules in another direction at the same time – as a food additive, probiotic or supplement – to speed up the approval process, he said.
Jelinek said he and Malka did other experiments with the kefir, and they were also able to demonstrate that the molecules have the potential to combat pathogenic bacteria. Specifically, they showed that the molecules were able to significantly reduce virulence of the causative agent of cholera, he said.
“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,” Jelinek said. “I don’t think there were any molecular mechanisms that people knew for sure would have a therapeutic effect. Now we know.”