A Kiwi company is hoping cow's milk may provide a helping hand in the fight against COVID-19.
Hamilton-based Quantec specialises in extracting bioactives from natural ingredients.
The company has already used a milk-derived ingredient - called immune defence proteins (IDP) - to create supplements and skincare products, now it is hoping IDP might play a role in fending off COVID-19.
Extracted from fresh, pasteurised milk, IDP is a natural milk protein complex containing 50 bioactive proteins.
Raewyn McPhillips, Quantec's chief executive, says new research commissioned by the company and conducted by an independent US laboratory has found IDP is effective at protecting cells against COVID-19.
It may also reduce the severity of symptoms from the virus, which could help sufferers of 'Long COVID', who face ongoing symptoms even after getting over the virus.
"We already knew IDP offered effective barrier protection and support for the immune system, so with COVID-19 running rampant throughout the world we wanted to investigate how IDP may be able to contribute to addressing immune health concerns," said McPhillips.
She said when the company initially got the ingredient tested it focused on how well it could protect against influenza rather than against the novel coronavirus "because we thought by the time we got the research done COVID-19 would be well-managed".
However, it then had IDP retested with a focus on how well it could protect against the new virus.
"With previous research under our belts showing IDP is effective at inhibiting and protecting cells against influenza A and herpes simplex, it's exciting to see IDP could also protect against COVID-19, both in constraining the viral infection of cells and potentially reducing symptoms."
McPhillips said the biggest market for the Quantec is China, where IDP is sold directly to companies who use it to make supplements. Although currently the ingredient is predominantly taken by being ingested, she said there was a possibility it could be developed into a nasal or mouth spray in light of the new research.
Dr Rod Claycomb, founder of Quantec and the company's innovation director, says IDP could also help reduce some of the gastrointestinal symptoms that can occur with cases of COVID, which could provide "some therapeutic relief for those suffering from the virus".
McPhillips said the milk used in the ingredient comes from local cows in Waikato, with 10 litres of milk needed to produce 1 gram of IDP.
"They're very tiny, very specific proteins that are extracted."
She said the company is now planning clinical trials following on from the results of the research and is also working with commercial partners to create consumer health products using the ingredient.