The venom taken from snakes or insects could be the next big treatment for diabetes and cancer, according to a medical journalist.
Amy McDermott has written a feature on how poisonous animals could help treat human beings in the journal PNAS.
The reporter wrote: “The pharmaceutical industry has a growing interest in venom, as some companies opt to return to drug discovery inspired by natural compounds, a trend that fell out of fashion about 40 years ago.”
For the article, she interviewed a series of researchers about the medical work they were doing that involved venom and how it might be used to positively benefit sick people.
One of the biggest breakthroughs in recent years is finding the venom from the marine cone snail which could help offer a treatment for diabetes.
Normally found in tropical and subtropical seas, the animal preys on small fish by releasing a cloud of insulin that crashes their blood sugar levels.
Biologist and biochemist Dr Helena Safavi at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark has been leading the charge in the research and has discovered that the snail’s insulin acts in seconds on the human insulin receptor.
She said: “Over the last few years it has felt like there’s a push back to natural products.”
Although the snail’s venom is deadly among fish, Dr Safavi believes the snail’s fast-acting insulin could form the basis of new diabetes medicines.
Working in partnership with the American-based biotech company Monolog she has recently licensed a compound which was based upon the snail’s venom and is being developed for clinical trials.
Another sea creature has inspired a drug to be made for the treatment of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune conditions such as lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and multiple sclerosis.
Dalazatide is based on the Caribbean sun sea anemone, which has a nasty sting containing a peptide called ShK.
It is thought this peptide works by blocking a potassium channel which is involved in the development of autoimmune disorders.
Immunologist Dr Michael Cahalan at the University of California said: “Rats injected with ShK seem perfectly fine. They run about and sniff each other and engage in normal rat behaviour.”
His findings are the result of more than 30 years’ work where his team have created a manmade version of ShK.
The article concludes that the exploration of venom research is increasing and with more than 220,000 animal species known to be venomous, there is much more work to be done.