Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, Bened's international business development head, Alain Delpy, said: "We recently signed five-year exclusive agreements with major pharmaceutical companies in several EU countries (including Germany, Poland and Spain), as well as in Australia and New Zealand, to expand the market for PS128."
One such company is Neuraxpharm Group, which specialises in treating central nervous system (CNS) disorders. It is due to launch its first probiotic in Europe, starting with Italy, under an exclusive licensing agreement with Bened.
Delpy also revealed that the nutraceuticals and food supplements developed under these partnerships would be distributed via pharmacies and healthcare practitioners.
"The products will be in capsule and sachet format — the capsules are meant for adults, while the sachets are meant for kids," he said.
After receiving widespread attention for PS128 — including winning the Probiotic Product of the Year award at the inaugural NutraIngredients-Asia Awards last year — Bened has successfully developed a second proprietary probiotic strain for commercialisation.
Delpy said: "We have managed to bring another proprietary probiotic strain, PS23, from the R&D stage to the commercialisation stage. It's a probiotic developed from Lactobacillus paracasei, which can increase dopamine in the brain, and has anti-anxiety effects. One specific aspect of PS23 we've focused on is its ability to increase B-DNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain."
B-DNF is an important protein in the brain that keeps neurons alive and allows them to make connections with one another. With ageing, however, B-DNF decreases, leading to weaker muscles and poorer memory.
Delpy added: "We've conducted animal studies to test PS23's effects on the brain, and seen that the mice that consumed it were able to maintain their memory and muscle coordination even as they aged.
"We used mouse models instead of conducting human clinical trials because mice age much faster — with human subjects, we would have had to conduct research over 20 years to observe the effects of PS23 on ageing."
A study on PS23, published in the journal Brain Research, reported that both live and heat-killed PS23 could reverse chronic corticosterone-induced behaviours associated with anxiety and depression, making it a potential psychobiotic for depression management.
Another study, published in Beneficial Microbes, reported that PS23 influenced the concentrations of dopaminergic metabolites, suggesting that it might have lowered maternal separation-induced stress levels in mice through neurotransmitter pathways such as dopamine.
Delpy said, "Of course, there's no real need to take supplements with PS23 for 20 years in real life. Someone in his 60s or even 70s can slow the ageing process by consuming PS23. But the earlier you begin consumption and the longer the consumption period, the greater the effects."
He further said that Bened had optimised PS23 by developing an extract from it, making it more stable and therefore, easier to process. As such, it can be used in formats besides capsules and sachets.
The PS23 extract lends itself to more manufacturing possibilities and a wider range of functional food applications — according to Delpy, it can be added to everyday foods, such as cereals, and meals prepared for the elderly.
"It's a very new strain that we've just brought to South Africa, and we will soon sign a deal in Australia for it. There are no finished products containing the PS23 extract yet," he said.
"But we are actually targeting Asia specifically, because the PS23 extract we've developed is highly stable, making it suitable for the humid environment in many Asian countries.
"Because it's an extract, there are far fewer precautions to observe when manufacturing products containing PS23, as compared to live bacteria."
Still going strong
Bened continues to conduct research on PS128, in order to explore new product development possibilities with existing and potential partners.
A recent study, published in the journal Nutrients, showed that PS128 could alleviate autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.
The four-week was said to be the first to use probiotics in a double-blind RCT for behavioural improvement in participants with ASD: a total of 80 boys aged seven to 15 received daily doses of PS128 or placebo, and the researchers subsequently reported that PS128 had significantly ameliorated behaviours characterised by opposition and defiance.
Currently, there are two more clinical studies assessing the impact of PS128 on children with ASD, one in Taiwan and the other in the US.
In February this year, Bened signed an agreement with Malaysian pharmaceutical firm Nuvanta, which Delpy said was seeing good market response so far, and presented promising potential for further development.
"Under our agreement with Nuvanta, we can extend the portfolio of products developed for the Malaysian market, either using PS128 or with other probiotic strains.
"But right now, we want to focus on ensuring strong positioning for one unique product before extending the portfolio."