Painkillers, based on tarantula venom, that have fewer side effects than commonly prescribed pain-relieving drugs are currently in development.
With more and more adults suffering from chronic pain, a new painkiller based on tarantula venom may soon be available. In 2016, researchers from the University of Queensland spoke at the annual meeting of the American Biophysical Society about the potential of the peptide ProTx-II, present in the venom of the Peruvian green tarantula (Thrixopelma pruriens), which can inhibit certain pain receptors by binding to the membranes of neurons.
Four years later, an experimental drug (known as EC5026) based on this venom was developed at the University of California, Davis. It is thought to block the underlying cause of certain types of pain by inhibiting the enzyme soluble epoxide hydrolase (SEH), an important regulatory enzyme involved in fatty acid metabolism. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even granted it a Fast Track Designation to facilitate its development.
The goal of these advances is to end dependence on opioids such as morphine, tramadol, and codeine, and to create non-addictive therapies without side effects for the treatment of pain.
How to make a painkiller from venom?
Now a team of researchers from the same university, led by Vladimir Yarov-Yarovoy, professor of physiology and membrane biology, and Heike Wulff, professor of pharmacology, has synthesized the tarantula peptide using computational biology. To do this, they used the Rosetta computer program developed by the University of Washington. This complex modeling software allowed the team to make many different iterations of the peptide, which they could then synthesize and test in the lab.
Using the Rosetta software, we can synthesize a natural peptide and turn it into a therapeutic product,” says Professor Yarov-Yarovoy. Our lead peptides already show efficacy comparable to morphine, but without the side effects of opiates. Although there is still work to be done, the preliminary results of the study are extremely promising and the researchers believe that a drug will be developed within the next five years, according to the institution’s press release.