The venom of the European honeybee is used for treating various diseases in Oriental medicine. In a recent paper published in the online journal Cancer Letters, Korean researchers investigated the potency of bee venom as an inhibitor of new blood vessel growth (angiogenesis) in lung cancer. Angiogenesis is a critical process in the development and spread of most cancer types.

First, using a standard angiogenesis assay called Matrigel, the researchers were able to show that bee venom does, in fact, inhibit angiogenesis. The venom reduced the production by lung cancer cells of a key protein that stimulates angiogenesis, called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).  Bee venom also diminished the activity of the proteins primary cellular receptor, VEGFR-2, which also controls angiogenesis.

When bee venom was injected into mice bearing human lung tumors, there were marked reductions in both tumor angiogenesis and tumor size—ranging between 49% and 62%. Furthermore, after bee venom treatment, there was a reduction of spontaneous lung tumor metastasis after removal of the primary tumor, leading to an increase in the median survival time of the mice—from 27 to 58 days. These results suggest bee venom inhibits angiogenesis during different stages of lung cancer growth by blocking activity of VEGF and its receptor, VEGFR-2.  Although not yet considered a true candidate for cancer drug development, bee venom clearly warrant further research, including human studies.