Cold sores, the unsightly social occasion killer.

But a Tauranga healthcare entrepreneur believes he’s on the brink of bringing relief to sufferers with medical grade honey. And in doing so, grabbing a slice of an international market valued at hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

“We’re not just seeing if our product works, we are putting ourselves up against the best current treatment in the world,” says Dr Shaun Holt, who is co-founder of HoneyLab. “And we are trying to beat it.”

They’re punting on robust scientific research, an “incredibly ambitious clinical trial” – and, the healing powers of its patented medical grade kanuka honey formulation, Honevo.

The clinical trial will involve 950 lip lesion sufferers. “It is the second largest lip lesion trial anyone has done. And we have almost had to reinvent clinical trials to achieve it.” And it’s inviting Tauranga people, who endure lip lesions, to assist.

The lip lesion, caused by the herpes simplex virus, is a common enough viral infection – but is cosmetically unattractive and painful. They look nasty and sound worse. Red fluid-filled blister-like lesions or sores on or around the lips. Some people get lip lesions 10 or more times a year.

“For them, it’s a major problem in terms of quality of life. Most people get them less frequently, often in times of stress.”

“Many of us are infected when our grannies kiss us when we are children, 90 per cent of us are carriers and about one-third of carriers get lip lesions.”

Shaun says current treatments aren’t very effective. “The main one sells for about $20 for two grams, has to be applied five times a day but has very little effect on how long the lip lesion lasts, only about half a day shorter.”

Honeylab’s first small study suggests honey will be much more effective on lip lesions. “The honey activates against the virus; and, perhaps more importantly, we know honey heals wounds and a lip lesion is basically a very difficult wound to heal.”

The company estimates it could potentially reduce the number of days Kiwis have a lip lesion on their lips by more than five million.

Now Honeylab has about 50 pharmacies throughout the country looking for people with lip lesions to enrol them in the medical trial.

Three of the pharmacies are in Tauranga – at Papamoa, Mount Maunganui and Otumoetai.

“So if you have a lip lesion, or it started within 48 hours, you go to one of the pharmacies. “The chemist will invite you to take part in the trial and if you do, you get a free treatment, you get $20 and you get to help with the research,” says Shaun.

For the trial participants will get the company’s honey or the current best treatment. “If the honey proves better, then we could confidently say we have the best product in the world.”

Shaun says it would normally cost tens of millions of dollars to do a clinical trial this big. ”We can’t afford that, we are doing it or a fraction of the cost. And the explanation is we are using pharmacies rather than going down the standard route through doctors in universities and hospitals.”

The trial is being independently conducted by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand.

The statistics around lip lesions are staggering. In the USA alone there are more than 100 million lip lesion episodes a year and the average individual cost is about $100 a year. The market’s leading product has annual sales of about US$250 million. It’s a lucrative market.

Originally published on The Weekend Sun.