A ground-breaking trial has proved that a Kiwi cold sore treatment made from honey works just as well as the pharmaceutical alternative.
At a glance
New Zealand honey is renowned for its taste and health benefits, and now a Bay of Plenty pharmaceutical company is set to make the golden stuff equally famous for its medicinal properties.
HoneyLab has proved that its kanuka honey formulation Honevo is just as effective as the pharmaceutical alternative in treating cold sores.
It has done so via one of the largest cold sore trials ever conducted, with the ground-breaking results published in the British Medical Journal Open.
The research proving the efficacy of Honevo Sore Lip is a key part of HoneyLab’s strategy for becoming an international natural pharmaceuticals company.
“You can have all the anecdotes in the world, it's only clinical research that tells you if it works,” HoneyLab founder Dr Shaun Holt says.
“The market for cold sore products is worth over a billion dollars every year, and there've been no good new treatments for about 20 years. So, I think the market is ripe for disruption,” he says.
HoneyLab is now actively working on establishing a partnership with a global company to licence and distribute its product.
The power of research
HoneyLab is an R&D-intensive business and that is unusual for a natural products company, Shaun says. Its model is to invest all its spare funds in research proving its products are as or more effective than pharmaceutical medicines, rather than solely focusing on building brands.
While clinical trials are usually conducted through a hospital or university it would have been extremely hard to find participants this way, as people don’t go to hospital with a cold sore. It also would have been prohibitively expensive, he says.
“We had to almost reinvent the way of doing a clinical trial by using pharmacists. It was a bit of Kiwi lateral thinking.”
The company recruited 75 pharmacists around the country and trained them up to trial HoneyLab’s product on their customers. The pharmacists got an impressive 950 customers to compare Honevo Sore Lip against Acyclovir, the drug used in many cold sore medicines. The results show that Honevo is just as effective as the pharmaceutical alternative.
While the findings were exactly what HoneyLab hoped for, it was also clear Honevo Sore Lip offers a host of other advantages.
Firstly it’s natural. “There’s a lot of chemophobia out there, and if you ask customers which product they would choose, that are equally effective, when one’s a chemical and one’s a natural, in my view 95 per cent will choose the natural one,” Shaun says.
The qualitative data from the study indicated that people prefer the look and taste of Honevo. Another advantage is that it can be safely applied as often as the user likes to keep their lips moist and can be used throughout the cold sore cycle.
Honevo is also good value for money - for a similar price as a tiny 2g tube of a pharmaceutical product the customer gets a 10g tube of Honevo.
While all honey works to some degree in healing wounds, Honevo is made from kanuka honey because it has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Shaun is a medical doctor by training, and when he researched the benefits of kanuka he realised that in terms of applying it to the skin it was superior to manuka. “No one was interested in it. So we decided to start HoneyLab and began testing kanuka honey for skin diseases,” he says.
The result is Honevo, a treatment for a range of skin conditions that contains just two natural ingredients – pharmaceutical grade kanuka honey and glycerin.
Testing its efficacy on cold sores was “incredibly ambitious”, Shaun says. “Not only did we go head-to-head with the current gold standard pharmaceutical treatment, it's really the size of the trial which is impressive in my view.”
Callaghan Innovation’s help was vital, he says. The agency’s co-funding of the cold sore study meant HoneyLab could accelerate the work and do other research programmes as well, Shaun says. “But it’s not just the funding. I’ve has a long relationship with Callaghan Innovation ever since HoneyLab started 10 years ago, and they have been supportive in all sorts of other ways.”
Kirstin Mead, Callaghan Innovation’s Regional Business Partner, says HoneyLab has a unique business model and a bright future.
“They are growing the body of knowledge in New Zealand around use of natural products in the health industry, and opening doors for the value-added honey sector.
“Callaghan Innovation looks forward to continuing to partner with HoneyLab, providing access to experts and networks as they continue their R&D journey.”
Updated: 12 July 2022