Wednesday July 1 2009.
A bee health product with cancer-fighting properties could become an even bigger export earner than Manuka honey, according to the professor who uncovered its benefits.
Melbourne-based professor Hiroshi Maruta led international research that found Bio 30 bee propolis from New Zealand suppresses neurofibromatosis, a condition that affects the skin and nervous system of one in 3000 people.
Dr Maruta is a visiting professor at Hamburg University Hospital, the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and La Trobe University in Melbourne.
He has specialised in research into the anti-cancer properties of propolis, a sticky brown substance made by bees from resins gathered from tree buds and cuts.
His initial research found the Bio 30 propolis supplied by Te Awamutu company Manuka Health suppressed the growth of Type 1 neurofibromatosis tumours in mice by over 90 per cent. Tumour shrinkage was visible after 6 to 12 months treatment.
Since then, an on-going trial in several countries involving neurofibromatosis type 1, melanoma and pancreatic cancer sufferers has found most showing no further growth in their tumours.
Treatment involves each patient taking Manuka Health’s Bio 30 propolis liquid containing 30 mg/g of bioflavonoids, a group of natural substances with anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and antiseptic properties.
And Dr Maruta told NBR that, while he couldn’t put a dollar value on it, he thought the potential market value of the Bio 30 product to be “huge” and perhaps even bigger than Manuka honey.
It would have significant value as a medicine when approved for this use by the appropriate authorities, he said.
Bio 30 is already sold as a health supplement and Manuka Health chief executive Kerry Paul said the positive initial results would likely boost its sales even if it took years before it officially became a medicine.
“The wonderful thing is that it’s safe, it can be used now and it doesn’t conflict with other medicines,” he said.
The reason for Bio 30’s potency is its high levels of caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE); Bio 30 was found to have by far the highest concentration of this substance among propolis samples tested worldwide.
While Dr Maruta said he didn’t know why New Zealand propolis was so unique he said it was at least five times as potent as Brazilian green propolis, which was already known for its anti-cancer properties.
He said Bio 30 propolis had general anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties as well and “it’s reasonable to assume Bio 30 would be effective for viral infections such as swine flu”.
But the biggest benefit of Bio 30, he said, was its relatively low cost.
Treatment with Bio 30 costs only about $1 per patient per day, which is “cheaper than good coffee or tea”, according to the professor.
Mr Paul said propolis was starting to be supplied in the tens of tons, but potential markets would require much more, and careful planning would be needed to manage the increase in demand.