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Customer story

HoneyLab: Healing powers of honey

This article was published on May 23, 2019, 2:56 PM

Reading time: 5 minutes

A ground-breaking trial has proved that a Kiwi cold sore treatment made from honey works just as well as the pharmaceutical alternative.

What's in this article

    At a glance

    • Bay of Plenty natural pharmaceuticals company HoneyLab has proved its cold sore product is as effective as the current best pharmaceutical treatment.
    • It established Honevo Sore Lip’s efficacy via research that has now been published in the British Medical Journal Open.
    • Pharmacists got 950 customers to test Honevo against the standard pharmaceutical alternative.
    • The trial showed not only is Honevo as good as the alternative, but cold sore sufferers prefer the natural benefits it offers.

    But it’s not just the funding. I’ve had a long relationship with Callaghan Innovation ever since HoneyLab started 10 years ago, and they have been supportive in all sorts of other ways.

    - Dr Shaun Holt, Founder, HoneyLab

    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.

    Healing powers of honey

    [Shaun Holt]

    Honey's been used as a medicine for around 5,000 years as well as healing

    wounds it kills all bacteria. So a lot of medical wound care centers are now using

    honey as a treatment.

    So I'm a medical doctor, I trained in the UK and then moved here around 20 years ago,

    and since then I've really concentrated on clinical trials, and then around 10 years

    ago started Honeylab with the idea of applying those same pharmaceutical testing methods

    to natural products starting with honey.

    And when I looked into the properties of Kanuka because I've never heard of Kanuka,

    it was all about Mānuka, I realised that from a medicinal point of view in terms of

    applying it to the skin it was actually probably going to be better than Mānuka.

    So the clinical trial was on our product called Honevo which is short for Honey evolved

    It can be used for cold sores for rosacea for acne and for wound care it's got a number of uses

    [Kirstin Mead]

    So Honeylab contacted Callaghan Innovation because they wanted to do

    some clinical trials on one of their products.

    We've been supporting them through a research and development grant, that's really helped

    them derisk a lot of the project because it's a scary thing doing research and development

    [Shaun Holt]

    They really focus on R&D companies who are adding value, particular to Natural

    Resources so you know I hope we're a perfect fit with Callaghan.
    In terms of cold sore treatments, the current option is pharmaceutical treatments,

    an actual drug in there, it’s called Acyclovir and there's others as well.

    In the trial we went head-to-head with Acyclovir, and the result of the trial was, in

    terms of effectiveness, we were exactly the same, we matched it, so that’s an amazing

    result from a natural product.

    People think that Honeylab is a honey company and I can see why, but I think of us as

    being a pharmaceutical company.

    Our business model is to develop the products to prove they’re as effective as

    medicines, protect the IP in several different ways, and then our aim is to license it to

    large pharmaceutical companies overseas.

    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.


    HoneyLab founder Dr Shaun Holt

    HoneyLab founder Dr Shaun Holt

    Natural healer

    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 had 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.”

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