Snail Venom Has Analgesic Effects for Chronic Pain Sufferers

Scientists are developing an oral chronic pain suppressant derived from the venom of cone snails.

Cone snail venom has led to the development of at least 5 experimental substances that scientists hope will orally treat chronic nerve pain with fewer side effects and lower abuse risk, according to research revealed at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Cone snails use venom to paralyze their prey, but the peptides, known as conotoxins, appear to have analgesic effects in humans. Currently, there is one approved conotoxin drug, ziconotide, but it must be infused into the lower spinal cord via an invasive procedure.

As an alternative, non-invasive option, researchers are creating a conotoxin-based oral drug, which has been successful in mice models thus far. Scientists believe the new drug is 100 times more potent than morphine or gabapentin. Another benefit is its reduced risk for addiction, as conotoxin does not affect the same receptors in the brain as morphine and other opiates.

“This is an important incremental step that 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,” said David Craik, PhD, who led the study.

In previous research, scientists found a way to modify and stabilize conotoxin peptides. Now, they are tweaking the composition to make the product safe for human testing and treatment.