IBD affects approximately 1 in 800 people and current methods of treating or managing the disease are limited to a range of drugs and surgical intervention.
Provexis has signed an agreement with the University of Liverpool, where gastroenterology specialist Professor Jonathan Rhodes identified the potential of the extract.
After screening a number of natural products, the researcher found that soluble fibre from the plantain, or non-starch polysaccharides, stops the intestinal lining from attracting bacteria that are thought to contribute to inflammatory episodes in IBD. There has been growing interest in the impact of non-starch polysaccharides on health.
Plantain, typically found in the West Indies, are large bananas that need to be cooked before being eaten. Many of the countries where plantain flour is a diet staple have a low incidence of Crohn's disease, although the plant has not been significantly investigated for its health benefits. South American Indians are reported to have boiled the plantain peels to produce a liquid cold remedy.
"Crohn's disease is an unpleasant condition that often requires surgery so if this fibre preparation reduces disease activity it could represent a very significant advance in treatment," said Rhodes.
Rhodes and colleagues have proposed that Crohn's disease is a macrophage disorder, either genetic or acquired, which sees the body's own bacteria attack the gut lining causing an inflammatory response.
Dr Stephen Franklin, CEO of Provexis, told NutraIngredients that the plantain extract could be seen as a prebiotic, although it appears to have a more specific function in laboratory tests.
"The early lab results on this product were good and the mechanism of action is also well understood. Many people in this field of research are coming round to Rhodes' way of thinking."
"We are also in a strong patent position," he added.
Liverpool university holds the patent on the product but Provexis has an option that allows it to gain full rights to the intellectual property in the future. Funding has come from a government-funded award.
The company will however need to ensure that the extract can survive in the digestion process until it reaches the gut and it has not yet begun clinical trials, scheduled to launch by the end of the year, to confirm the laboratory results. If all goes to plan, the extract could become the second nutraceutical in the company's portfolio.
It has also developed a juice, called Cardioflow, based on a tomato extract that has been shown in trials to 'thin' the blood of people at risk of cardiovascular disease. The results from the final clinical trial on this product are due next month.
It offers significant potential for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, providing a functional food alternative for people self-prescribing medicines such as aspirin.
The plantain extract would be marketed as a medical food, rather than as a functional food.