WA Nobel Prize laureate Barry Marshall is a step closer to a simple pill or drink that could revolutionise the treatment of rocketing rates of allergy.
With a grant of almost $1 million, Professor Marshall and his biotechnology firm Ondek are working with Perth child health researchers on a quantum leap from lab tests to a trial of the first "good bacteria" allergy product.
He said it would be a radical way to tackle common food allergies and eczema, which were often treated with strong inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids that could stunt a child's growth.
Professor Marshall said there was a real prospect of offering millions of people a more natural product using OND86, a patented derivative of the stomach bug Helicobacter pylori, which earned him and colleague Robin Warren a Nobel Prize after they found it caused stomach ulcers.
Unlike other products being investigated, OND86 is not a live bacterium so it does not colonise in the gut and cause stomach upsets, yet still appears to suppress immune responses associated with allergies.
"What we think happens when you have Helicobacter is that while it does things in the stomach, the bacteria also head down the intestine where the rest of the immune system has a look at them," Professor Marshall said.
"This is the area where things like tolerance to food products should develop and it seems that Helicobacter, just by its nature, because it's so different to other bacteria, has the effect of boosting tolerance, or down-regulating your immune system."
Last week, the National Health and Medical Research Council awarded a development grant of $920,000 to Ondek, which will subsidise the first clinical trial.
Testing in mice was promising and Ondek expects to start the trial in the next year and have a product ready in four years.
The potential market is massive, with asthma and allergy increasing dramatically over the past three decades, linked to increasingly cleaner environments and reduced exposure to bacteria in childhood.
A quarter of Australian infants have signs of eczema, a similar number have asthma and more than 20 per cent of one-year-olds are sensitive to some foods.
The trial will be run with Professor Susan Prescott and Professor Peter Richmond from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Princess Margaret Hospital, and Professor Kate Allen from Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital.
The trial will start with adults, followed by studies in children.