Garlic can do more than ward off vampires. It appears an active sulphurous compound, called ajoene, in the allium can help fight superbugs in patients with chronic infections.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have shown that the compound is able to destroy important components in the bacteria’s communication systems, which involve regulatory RNA molecules. So while ajoene doesn’t outright kill the bacteria, it prevents them from communicating with other microbes, which allows them to grow.

“We really believe this method can lead to treatment of patients, who otherwise have poor prospects. Because chronic infections like cystic fibrosis can be very robust. But now we, together with a private company, have enough knowledge to further develop the garlic drug and test it on patients,” said Tim Holm Jakobsen, assistant professor, Costerton Biofilm Center at the Department of Immunology and Microbiology, in a university statement.

The research team, led by Professor Michal Givskov, has previously found that garlic extract is able to inhibit bacteria, thanks to ajoene.  Their latest study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, documents the compound’s ability to inhibit small regulatory RNA molecules in two types of bacteria.

“The two types of bacteria we have studied are very important,” explained Jakobsen. “They are called Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. They actually belong to two very different bacteria families and are normally fought using different methods. But the garlic compound is able to fight both at once and therefore may prove an effective drug when used together with antibiotics.”

Staphylococcus aureus is responsible for MRSA and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common Gram-negative bacterium that can cause chronic infections in patients with cystic fibrosis.

The researchers also noted that, in addition to inhibiting the bacteria’s RNA molecules, the active garlic compound also damages the bio-film—a protective matrix surrounding the bacteria. According to the researchers, “when the biofilm is destroyed or weakened, both antibiotics and the body’s own immune system are able to attack the bacteria more directly and thus remove the infection.”

Ajoene’s use as an anti-bacterial agent was patented by the research team in 2012. Neem Biotech has licensed the patent for their medical product, NX-AS-401, which aims to treat patients with cystic fibrosis. The drug has obtained ‘orphan drug designation’ and plans for clinical trials are underway.