Professor David Craik of the University of Queensland, Australia has been explaining how a team of scientists have developed a series of powerful new painkillers made from the venom of snails.

Five new ‘experimental’ painkillers have been created with a tiny protein found in cone snails’ venom. The substances could prove to be stronger than morphine and more effective at treating severe nerve pain. Craik described the research work as an ‘important incremental step’.

Cone Snail

“This could serve as the blueprint for the development of a whole new class of drugs capable of relieving one of the most severe forms of chronic pain that is currently very difficult to treat,” he said.

Cone snails use their venom to paralyse their prey. Made up of small proteins called conotoxins, the venom apprears to have an analgesic effect when used on humans. There is already a conotoxin-based drug available but it has to be injected directly into the spine, so researchers are working on an oral drug that contains the protein.

The drug has so far been tested on rats and the results are promising. “We don’t know about side effects yet as it hasn’t been tested in humans, but we think it would be safe,” said Prof Craik.

An advantage of the new drug is that it is unlikely to cause the side-effects that morphine does. “It acts by a completely different mechanism than morphine, so we think it has a minimal possibility of producing the side-effects of that medication. That is one of the big advantages of this drug,” explains Craik.

Professor Craik will shortly present the discovery at an American Chemical Society conference.

[Image via dddmag]