Anticancer Drugs from Bee Venom

Anticancer Drugs from Bee Venom

By Ahmed Elnagar

Bee venom has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years for the treatment of a number of diseases like arthritis, multiple sclerosis and even baldness. Bee venom has also been shown to be effective in treating inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases owing to the venom’s anti-inflammatory properties.

Anticancer components in bee venom:

Recently, some components present in bee venom were found to possess anticancer properties. These anticancer components, mostly proteins, peptides and enzymes, can fight cancerous tumors in various ways through their lytic (cell membrane disruption), anti-angiogenic (anti-blood vessel formation), apoptotic (cell death) and/or anti-proliferative/anti-metastatic properties. The most abundant and important of which is a lytic peptide called melittin composed of 26 amino acids. It constitutes about 40-50% of dry honeybee venom, and can be produced synthetically which is much easier than the direct extraction from bees.

The use of melittin in cancer treatment has not been practical –until now at least – due to the impossibility of directing its destructive effects to cancer cells specifically while avoiding damage to healthy cells. Recent research, however, has shown promising results of a solution to overcome this problem. Using nanotechnology, researchers produced nanoparticles which are basically a delivery vehicle that forms a “coat” around melittin molecules. The melittin-nanoparticle complex attaches only to malignant cells and there only is melittin released as a free compound. The lethal effect is then exerted on the cancer cell itself, with very little or no damage at all to normal cells. The nanoparticle coating compound also prevents the destruction of melittin by normal body reactions when it circulates freely in the blood. This means that the complex will stay stable longer allowing for better chances to find cancer cells and attach to them.

What about the side effects?

While injecting pure melittin into the blood has side effects much worse than chemotherapy, the new nanotech-coated melittin method – based on its results on mice tumours at least – promises to reverse all this with much lesser side effects than chemotherapy. Research on melittin’s anticancer potential has been/is being conducted at many research centers and universities in the US such as Washington University and the University of Illinois as well as other countries like South Korea and Croatia. So far, experiments on melittin treatment have been in vitro or on experimental animals like mice. The next step is to try them on humans.


Premratanachai P., Chanchao C. Review of the anticancer activities of bee products. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. 2014;4(5):337–344.

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