Naturally occurring compounds from New Zealand's unique plants and honey could one day form part of the arsenal against cancer.
The chief executive of natural healthcare company Manuka Health, Kerry Paul, said trials conducted in conjunction with cancer researchers had shown propolis from manuka flowers could reduce the formation of tumour cells.
Made by bees from a mixture of flower resins and its own enzymes, propolis is used to line the beehive, making it sterile.
Paul said New Zealand's unique native plants created propolis with high concentrations of naturally occurring anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour agents not found anywhere else in the world.
Manuka Health is one of five companies to have reached the finals of the University of Auckland Business School Entrepreneurs' Challenge.
It is in the running for a funding boost of up to $1 million to turbo-charge growth.
The company, which sold its first pot of manuka honey in July 2006, has made a $20 million-a-year business out of harvesting compounds from plants and manuka honey.
Processed to retain the bioactivity, in particular an antibacterial compound called methylglyoxal that occurs naturally in manuka flowers, the end products form a suite of healthcare products.
Not only has Manuka Health created unique technology to separate the bioactives from the honey, it has also worked on the best ways to combine the raw materials with delivery technologies.
A new product, CycloPower, encapsulates the honey in a modified plant material, cyclodextrin, that keeps the bioactives stable.
"This technology makes the product 10 to 20 times more powerful or potent than the honey alone and also it is in powder form, which is far easier for a person to carry around with a blister pack or tube than it is a pot of honey," said Paul.
Research into methylglyoxal was completed by the Technical University of Dresden in Germany and much of the intellectual property owned by the company is created overseas.
"Whilst we may have developed these offshore, we've actually got a motivation and objective to bring them back to New Zealand and to produce high-value products here."
With a profitable business and new shareholders on board, Manuka Health is looking for funds to register health and medical claims with regulatory authorities around the world.
It's an exercise that won't come cheap, but Paul said it was important to have scientific evidence behind the firm's products. Trials to test a health claim cost between $300,000 and $1 million, with medical claim tests in the $3 million to $7 million bracket.
Paul said the company was likely to need partners to take it into the medical claim area.
* Ambitions to grow sales to more than $50m.
* Plans for an $8m processing facility in Te Awamutu.
* Up to 85 per cent of revenue comes from overseas.
* Sold in 45 countries.