Researchers are finding new drugs for chronic pain and autoimmune diseases by modifying animal venom-derived molecules that target the nervous and immune systems.
by Dan Cossins
Animal venoms are a veritable treasure trove of proteins and peptides fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution to kill or incapacitate both predator and prey. Usually delivered via injection—through an assortment of fangs, barbs, spines, and stingers—venom toxins evade the body’s defenses to seek out target cells, where they prevent blood cells from clotting, for example, or block ion channels on nerve cells to shut down or subvert their function.
Such high molecular specificity and potency has long made venom a promising source of drug candidates. More than 30 years ago, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first venom-derived drug—a therapy for hypertension, called Capoten, copied from a pit viper venom peptide…