Study of bees may be medicinal honeypot

James Fearnley walking in the heather above Goathland, a natural habitat for bees.
James Fearnley walking in the heather above Goathland, a natural habitat for bees.
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THE next time you feel tempted to swat a bee, consider this fact:

You are attacking a flying pharmacy.

Mankind has mistreated bees for centuries, and our ignorance means we’ve lost the chance to eradicate a host of lethal diseases.

With help from a team of Yorkshire-based bee lovers, we could be about to get a second chance.

Entrepreneur James Fearnley plans to establish a centre in the North York Moors which will study how bees can improve our health.

Mr Fearnley predicts that the centre will create 10 jobs in the heart of the National Park, at a time when the public sector spending squeeze is making life harder for rural communities.

Mr Fearnley, who is the founder of Whitby-based Nature’s Laboratory, believes it would be the height of folly to take bees for granted. His company is behind the BeeVital brand, which develops products derived from bees.

The long term survival of the honey bee is in question while researchers are discovering some “astounding medicinal properties for products produced by honey”, according to Mr Fearnley.

”Everyone now knows about the antibiotic properties of honey, but we have discovered that bees are collecting a chemical antidote to Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) but only in areas where sleeping sickness is found,’’ he said.

“In tropical areas, where bees are seriously challenged by micro bacteria, they are collecting material that is highly effective against MRSA.”

If Mr Fearnley’s initiative succeeds, Yorkshire could become a global centre for the study of bees.

He said yesterday: “Our vision is to develop an international focus for the better understanding of the medicinal values of bee products, or apiceuticals as we call them.

“We are working with the North York Moors National Park and Bradford University to build a unique centre which will include a research laboratory, exhibition and conference centre in Goathland, which is smack in the middle of the heather moorland, which is home to millions of honey bees at this time of year.”

The project will be run as an independent charitable trust and could employ a team of top class researchers.

Mr Fearnley said: “Commercial bee keeping has developed processes that have stretched the bees’ immune systems to breaking point.

“Bees are like a flying pharmacy. The temperature inside a beehive is the same as inside our bodies.

“Natural medicine derived from bees can fill the gap that’s been left by the failure of pharmaceutical medicines. Natural medicine is the future.”

Beevital, which has got 10 staff and £500,000 turnover, has seen “enormous” growth, according to Mr Fearnley.

He said: “We’re pursuing exciting opportunities in South East Asia and worldwide.

“The market for the natural medicines is massive. We’re the largest producer of herbal medicines in the UK.”

The proposed centre in Goathland, which will be known as the Apiceutical Research Centre, is being supported by the Centre for Pharmaceutical Engineering Science at Bradford University.

Yesterday, an event was held at the university as part of the British Science Festival, which highlighted the ways in which honey bees can be used to create healthcare products.

In 2010, Anant Paradkar and Adrian Kelly, from the Centre for Pharmaceutical Engineering Science, secured a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Nature’s Laboratory to develop products derived from bees for the therapeutic and personal care markets.

By taking part in a KTP, businesses can grow by using the expertise of academics.

Dr Riddhi Shukla, the commercial projects manager for the Centre for Pharmaceutical Engineering Science (CPES), said there was the potential for “heather” honey from Yorkshire to become the “next Manuka honey”.

Manuka honey comes from bees that have pollinated the Manuka trees that grow in the East Cape region of New Zealand.

Fans of Manuka honey say it’s a powerful weapon against harmful bacteria.

Mr Fearnley is holding talks with representatives from the North York Moors National Park authority to assess the viability of opening a research centre in Goathland.

The natural way forward

James Fearnley, the founder of the healthcare brand, BeeVital, has been involved in natural medicine since the early 1970s.

In 1992 he co-founded a company specialising in bee products.

He was one of the first people in the UK to commission scientific studies into propolis.

Propolis is the resinous substance collected by bees from the leaf buds and bark of trees. BeeVital was formed in 2002 with the aim of exploring the pharmacological and clinical properties of propolis.

In May 2004 BeeVital won a major UK Government Research and Development Award to look at the potential for developing licensed medicines from propolis.