Three clinical trials of natural health product to take place this year.
A successful trial of East Coast kānuka oil to treat acne, eczema and even reduce stress and anxiety, could lead to a multimillion-dollar industry for this region and provide dozens of jobs.
Ruatoria social enterprise Hikurangi Enterprises has secured $400,000 in investment funds to undertake three clinical trials of one of its natural health products this year.
The trials will test the potential of kānuka oil extracts as a potential treatment for the two skin conditions, and possibly to reduce stress and anxiety.
“We are hugely excited about this opportunity to create value from a plant that most people have considered a weed,” said general manager Panapa Ehau.
Kānuka (Kunzea ericoides), which is superficially similar to mānuka, is endemic to New Zealand and grows abundantly throughout this region.
Kānuka oil was developed by Hikurangi Bioactives, a joint venture between Hikurangi Enterprises, private investors and Honeylab, a New Zealand natural health innovation business.
Hikurangi Enterprises project manager Manu Caddie said although it would be at least two years from market, they had already been in contact with multinational companies.
“We sent some of our existing research and they are very keen to hear how the trials go.
“If they were to pick up one of the products, it would earn a few million dollars in annual royalty payments.
“Supplying the kānuka oil would need between 20 and 40 full-time workers harvesting and extracting the oil, and would require a new factory near Ruatoria.
“It depends on first proving the product works better than what is on the market at present and second, securing a licensing deal with a global distributor.”
Government agency Callaghan Innovation is funding 40 percent of the trials and Eastland Community Trust has committed to fund up to 20 percent through a loan.
“This project has strong science credentials and if clinical trials prove the product’s effectiveness, there is real potential to take the formula to global markets,” said Callaghan Innovation business and relationship manager Francene Wineti.
ECT general manager Leighton Evans said they were impressed by the job and growth potential.
“ECT wants to see more innovation and value created in Tairawhiti, and that means supporting ventures with high growth potential.”
Hikurangi Enterprises has a goal of creating jobs and increasing economic development on the East Coast.
A visit from a group of plant scientists in 2015 was the catalyst for starting an intensive research programme focused on compounds from kānuka using new extraction technology and the latest research on the chemicals it contains.
Mr Caddie said it had been a steep learning curve developing the health products and getting them to trial, but they now had a great model to raise the funds required to progress research and development in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
“We are having discussions with a number of investors and potential partners interested in taking a stake in the suite of natural health products we plan to take to clinical trial over the next few years.”
Hikurangi Bioactives has established strong research relationships with a number of universities, Crown research institutes and private research organisations in New Zealand and overseas.
Another more recent project Hikurangi Enterprises has initiated involves a collaboration between researchers in Germany, Switzerland, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
“We are developing intellectual property (IP) that proves the effectiveness of a particular natural health product for specific conditions or general wellbeing,” Mr Caddie said.
“It is a high risk exercise because it costs so much to test new treatments on real people in ways that are safe and ethical, but the potential rewards are massive.
“It could help people who cannot find effective and affordable treatments, as well as provide income to our community through IP licenses and jobs by establishing whanau and land owners as the suppliers of key ingredients to the multinational companies that hold the licenses to use our IP.”
The kānuka oil trials will take just over 12 months and are being undertaken by an independent medical research organisation with patients suffering from the conditions.
Photo Caption: Dr Andrew Munkacsi, chemical genetics researcher at Victoria University School of Biological Sciences, shows the genetic assay robot to Callaghan Innovation’s Francene Wineti. Dr Munkacsi is identifying gene groups that Hikurangi Enterprises kanuka extracts are active on.