Honeylab medical‐grade kanuka honey a vanguard for pharmaceutical honey industry
A medical honey developed by New Zealand researchers can not only treat a number of skin diseases, but could so help combat the global health emergency of antibiotic resistance, creating a billion dollar honey industry.
The medical‐grade kanuka honey formulation developed by Wellington and Bay of Plenty based Honeylab, along with researchers from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, are vying with manuka to be a new medical miracle and a major new earner for the Kiwi economy.
The current size of the potential kanuka market is estimated to be about $3 billion and the skin medicines are showing such positive results that several of the top 10 largest healthcare companies in the world are in negotiations with Honeylab for the products.
The medical‐grade kanuka honey formulation, Honevo, is currently being market tested in New Zealand pharmacies.
Last year after the pharmaceutical research company filed it patents, University of Otago associate professor and bee expert Peter Dearden said it was interesting area of research and could be a success story.
Manuka honey had been blazing the way for some time and to hear that useful compounds had been found in kanuka honey as well, was good news, he told Stuff.
Manuka honey is commonly associated with medical benefits and sold for consuming but kanuka is used in skin medicine and results have shown it to be effective for a number of skin diseases which are often treated with antibiotic.
It is "more effective than prescribed medication," says chief executive Laurence Greig.
A large‐clinical trial, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal Open, has shown that it is effective for the conditions such as rosacea, acne, cold sores, burns and wounds.
The honey medicines would add significant value to a booming industry and pave the way for a pharmaceutical honey industry, Greig said.
The honey industry was touted to hit the billion dollar mark but he "struggled" to see how selling pots of honey could make that happen and believed adding medical honey could make it more realistic.
"We are the vanguards trying to build a new industry. We are creating something New Zealand needs and we encourage others to get on the bandwagon," he said.
He believed his company had taken up the government challenge to move out out of commodities into high value products.
Honey had been used in medicine for wound care [such as Comvita Medihoney products] but Honeylab was leading the way for clinically-based medicinal use, he said.
"A number of New Zealand variations have unique properties, so I think others will follow us and leverage off what we have."
However, he warns it would not be easy.
Getting the products to such a high pharmaceutical standards took a lot of investment in research - almost all money his company made since it started was spend on R&D.
Seven years ago it launched the world's biggest research programme on medical honey.
It was currently testing its honey formulation against the market leader in cold sores and he expect it would be far superior. It was the second largest cold sores trial ever undertaken by far the biggest clinical trial ever undertaken in New Zealand , with more than 900 people taking part.
"Anyone who follows will be taking a risk and will have to think of their business as a pharmaceutical company and not a honey business," he said.
Greig believes Honeylab had many years of clinical research ahead and was developing new medicines using other types of honey.
"What GlaxoSmithKline did for milk, we will do for honey."
Co-founder Dr Shaun Holt said New Zealand Trade And Enterprise and other governments departments liked the business because it was adding huge value to "an almost worthless commodity" (kanuka), which was fully sustainable and could not be moved offshore.
"Although Manuka honey sells at a premium, there is much more value in selling honey as a medical product."
The company had a huge pipeline of research and ideas and were looking at other products from bees and their environment, particularly bee venom, to helps with pain and hair loss.
The Tauranga based founder, who is an associate professor at Victoria University, told a recent TEDxWellington event that kanuka was not just an effective treatment for skin conditions such as rosacea and wounds but it could also help buy time to develop new antibiotics.
Medical Research Institute of New Zealand director Professor Richard Beasley said: "Antibiotics are widely used for skin diseases and by using medical honey instead where possible, we can limit their use and therefore slow down the rate at which micro‐organisms develop resistance".
ANZ rural economist Con Williams said in January medical grade honey was not yet worth its weight in gold, but at $1000 a kilogram it would be one of New Zealand's highest priced exports.
Statistics New Zealand data shows the value of honey exports jumped to $285 million in 2015 from $202 million in 2014. The 41 per cent increase in exports was a result of the popularity of manuka honey, which continues to attract high paying investors.
Oceania Natural recently listed on the NZX and saw shares surged 300 per cent within a few days of listing. The company which sells products derived from the likes of Manuka honey and Noni fruit, with China its key export market, is expecting revenue of $3.4million in the 2016 financial year, forecast to grow to $5.4m in 2017.
In February the Overseas Investment Office approved the $110 million sale of Manuka Health NZ to Pacific Equity Partners.
The food and healthcare firm runs the biggest honey factory in New Zealand and sells its products in 50 countries.
In December South Island iwi Ngai Tahu bought 50 per cent of Masterton premium honey firm Watson & Son in a multi-million-dollar deal that industry sources estimated at more than $40m.