Snail Venom Compound Could Replace Opioids as Pain Reliever

Snail Venom Compound Could Replace Opioids as Pain Reliever

By Staff

A small snail with powerful venom may hold a key to future alternatives to opioid pain medication.

The study published in the February 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined a drug made by Seattle-based startup Kineta, using the venom from a Caribbean sea snail.

Scientists at the University of Utah have found a compound that blocks pain by targeting a pathway not associated with opioids.

“Nature has evolved molecules that are extremely sophisticated and can have unexpected applications,” begins Baldomera Olivera, Ph.D., professor in biology at the University of Utah. “We were interested in using venoms to understand different pathways in the nervous system.”

Conus regius, a small marine cone snail common to the Caribbean Sea, packs a venomous punch, capable of paralyzing and killing its prey.

In this study, the researchers found that a compound isolated from snail’s venom, Rg1A, acts on a pain pathway distinct from that targeted by opioid drugs. Using rodent models, the scientists showed that “?9?10” nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) functions as a pain pathway receptor and that RgIA4 is an effective compound to block this receptor. The pathway adds to a small number of non-opioid-based pathways that could be further developed to treat chronic pain.

The compound works its way through the body in 4 hours, but the scientists found the beneficial effects were maintained for longer periods of time.

“We found that the compound was still working 72 hours after the injection, still preventing pain,” said J. Michael McIntosh, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences. The duration of the outcome may suggest that the snail compound has a restorative effect on some components of the nervous system.

“What is particularly exciting about these results is the aspect of prevention,” said McIntosh. “Once chronic pain has developed, it is difficult to treat. This compound offers a potential new pathway to prevent pain from developing in the first place and offer a new therapy to patients who have run out of options.”

The researchers will continue to the next step of pre-clinical testing to investigate the safety and effectiveness of a new drug therapy.

Most pain medications available today work through a limited number of pathways and are not sufficient to alleviate chronic pain. “RgIA4 works by an entirely new pathway, which opens the door for new opportunities to treat pain,” said McIntosh. “We feel that drugs that work by this pathway may reduce burden of opioid use.”

Featured photo credit: My Huynh

Subscribe to our blog via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Authored by: Staff

There are 13 comments for this article
  1. Anonymous at 5:05 pm

    I am sure medical science will continue to find “better” methods and chemical compounds to help the human race with the many different health conditions that are already known. It is also known that opioid medication can, and does make life for we non cancer chronic pain patients a little better, easier, fuller. Approximately 10 million Americans (as per the CDC) have some level of sufficiently treatable, non cancer chronic pain. Because not all good people are responsible with life, in general, is a good enough reason to make the chronic pain folks suffer…….more. Life is not difficult enough without severe, continuous, uncontrolled pain. There is not much science in this my “2 cents worth”. We chronic pain patients understand that if less opioid medication is prescribed, the less chance it will find its’ way to the irresponsible person. All of you folks that do not have to deal with chronic pain personally, or have a loved one being tortured daily, count your blessings. Because if we ALL had to deal with chronic pain, I am sure that there would not be ANY committees or studies even happening on the use of opioid medication for chronic pain. Unless it was to improve on…….what we know, already works.

  2. Tim Mason at 8:39 am
    Venom-based cures aren’t a new idea. They show up, for example, in Sanskrit texts from the second century A.D., and around 67 B.C. Mithradates VI of Pontus, an enemy of Rome who dabbled in toxicology, was supposedly saved twice on the battlefield by shamans who administered steppe viper venom to his wounds. (Crystallized venom from the snakes is now a medical export from Azerbaijan.) Cobra venom, applied for centuries in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, was introduced to the West in the 1830s as a homeopathic pain remedy. John Henry Clarke’s Materia Medica, published around 1900, describes the venom as alleviating many ills, even those caused by venom. “We should always endeavour to use the same drug to cure as produced the symptoms,” the author wrote. Clinical applications of carefully diluted cobra venom included “Angina pectoris. Asthma. Dysmenia. Hay-fever. Headache. Heart, affections of. Oesophagus, spasmodic stricture of. Ovaries, affections of. Plague … Throat, sore.” But be careful, it was noted: “The curative dose [is] just within the limit of the pathogenetic dose.” Walking such a fine line, physicians of old likely hastened patients’ deaths as often as—or more often than—they prolonged their lives.
    Witchcraft will soon be returning…

  3. Jean Price at 8:25 pm

    Thanks, Geoff! The information you offered is appreciated!

  4. Kahty C at 4:20 pm

    They have been peddling this “Snail Research” for well over a decade giving false hope to Pain Patients. This is getting tedious. This will go Viral again, Hey why not. The Medical Industry is creating a whole new generation of desperate people. This stuff is nowhere near Human trials. See rats don’t talk, so they really don;t make good test subjects. The people running this Site are pretty non Scientific. There is a movement afoot to deny that Pain even Exists. There are even less Resources for information that there were 10 years ago. The “Science” has been undermined by Corporate Interests, it look like we are doomed. Physicians are no better at diagnosing pain than they were 20 Years ago. The Medical Industry found that their mistakes were not worth looking into, it is not profitable. Thye aren’t even treating the Dying anymore.

  5. Jean Price at 12:33 pm

    The February 20 issue! I’m assuming they mean 2000…and if that is so, where is this research sitting NOW, some seventeen years later!? Without funding, perhaps?! Or has it been found too expensive to produce or reproduce!? Or has it been trashed altogether…for any number of other reasons?! When I see a potential medication or treatment for helping decrease pain…I can’t help but turn to thinking the CDC would better serve the public to fund new areas of treatment for pain…instead of blocking the only ones proven to help so many!! And also they could spend all the money wasted on their deceitful and unfounded anti-opioid campaign on research for pain!! Their efforts to date have already worked way too well! They don’t to pay for more, thats certain!!

    All chemical compounds are virtually “poisons” which when used in specific and limited amounts, achieve a desired effect…and are then referred to as “medications”!!. Strange how that works, isn’t it?! All must be treated with the respect they deserve since they all can also cause harm. Even ” all natural” products should be viewed this way…because, like this snail venom…many totally natural products or chemicals are potent poisons which can damage and even kill!

    Most medications in the PDR have the mechanism of action listed as “unknown”!! It’s interesting to me that we now have the technology to study specific methods or mechanisms of actions for some medications…and I think this could potentially lead to more targeted effects for the patients taking them…and more helpful medicines with fewer side effects to hamper those using them! For those with pain, LACKING helpful meditations that are ALLOWED NOW…(yet really any medical problem), this is so important! And so needed! This would be no small achievement! And benefit so many! IF the research is ACTUALLY CARRIED OUT!!

    So, as forbidding and nasty as snail venom seems to me…and even though I wonder if many could react to this in harmful ways…most of us would try almost anything to alleviate or reduce the pain that so controls our lives! Yet, where is the push to further this search for a new medication to help? Sitting on a shelf somewhere without funding? Or just forgotten because other disease seem more devastating than pain? Or other medications are more profitable to research and market?!

    I really haven’t seen a lot of diseases more destructive than pain, either personally or professionally during my previous years in nursing! Even fatal diseases are at least a release from the struggle of the damage they do…and when you live for decades in persistent, daily physical pain…that can seem like a bargain on some days!! Although in reality, I do think most of us desperately seek LIFE rather than death…it’s just more difficult WITH PAIN…AND without the appropriate care these days.

    I WISH THE STAFF HERE WOULD do a search to find out WHERE this particular research is now…that would be good to know! Otherwise it seems like a flash in the pan, a potential help for us that has gone nowhere! I feel there are many such possible medications and treatments for pain ending up this way! Since research, like so much in health care, has its politics and power plays too, governing the choices and funding of projects. With always an eye toward the profit it will make some people, yet ALSO out of necessity…looking at how it may help those in need! Because if it doesn’t help, then the money spent is wasted and we all loose out! __________________________________________

    Just some general things about research to consider…
    I worked for a time in clinical trials of pharmaceuticals, in a well known research clinic, and saw first hand why medications require such rigorous research AND cost so much!. As expensive and time consuming as this research can be, our FDA kept thalidomide from being marketed and dispersed in the United States some time ago…and by doing this, prevented likely thousands upon thousands of children being born with severe birth defects! That is worth so very much, since medications researched and marketed elsewhere may have much less stringent safeguards and less research and followup!

    Their diligence is still needed to protect us today. So, the FDA DOES NOT permit a drug to be marketed here based solely on research from other countries, and will put all potential chemicals/compounds/medications which they first must approve for research though a series of tough clinical phases here…regardless of how long a product may have been on the market in other countries!!

    When a chemical compound is first approved to start any research, and the study design is approved, there are in depth animal trials first, looking at maximin dosing, side effects, reproductive effects, potentials of causing cancer, and other factors. If a chemical or compound passes these, then studies with human volunteers take place. These trials look at safety first, (with healthy males, between certain ages… although sometimes also with woman who have NO child bearing potential, due to strict safety controls.). This phase also looks at bioavailability (how well the chemical gets into the system), and the dosing. If it passes, next there is an efficacy phase, (how efficiently the drug achieves what it’s intended to) with specific patients who have the medical condition it’s supposed to treat. If it passes this phase, sometimes there is a comparison study to see how the new drug measures up to a known medication. Through all of this, researchers keep an eye on the side effects or potential problems during those last phases, too. The pharmaceutical company will spread the research usually over multiple testing facilities across the country to help get the required number of patients needed for each phase. And pharmaceutical representatives make frequent visits to the research clinics to oversee the information being gathered and the safety of the patients.

    These studies can have a variety of designs, usually “blinded” to the patient and the investigator, so knowing doesn’t influence the outcomes, and placebo controlled. Yet they have built in visits to make sure the patient isn’t having an upswing of symptoms and might need to go off the study…just in case they haven’t been receiving active medication. If there are severe side effects, the investigator and the company representative can break that patient’s code to see what they have been receiving. All for the safety and comfort of the patient, regardless of what losing their data might mean! (Patients ALL know beforehand there is a possibility they will receive placebo!)

    At a good facility, patients receive: thorough screening, a detailed comprehensive history taken by the study nurse, a detailed and easy to understand informed consent to know exactly what they are doing and what is needed from them and a thorough explanation of any and all possible risks —with questions they ask written down along with the answers given, a through physical exam by the physician, including any necessary lab tests and X-rays, (note…EVERYTHING is free of any charge to them). They also receive excellent medical care, 24hour access to the study nurse, and often a stipend PER visit (of around $15-20) to help offset transportation costs and their time, or any inconveniences of participating. If it’s an in house study, requiring the patient to stay at the facility, the horararium paid to them is usually greater, and can depend on what is required of the patient to participate.

    Research participants ARE NOT human guinea pigs, but rather protected, well informed, well treated patients who PARTICIPATE in their OWN care at an thorough and unprecedented level! They receive personal, in depth care…often better than any they could find elsewhere! Again, at no charge! And they have the benefit of knowing they may be helping themselves AND others who have the same condition!

    Yet, patient recruitment for studies is difficult, and detailed…and can delay the study or even close out a clinic’s leg of the trial altogether, if the approved patients aren’t found. Most women who participate must either be of non child bearing potential or on an accepted type of birth control, and must agree to stay on this for the length of the study, for safety reasons. Age is also a qualifying factor in studies, depending on the medication. Few studies will take patients over 65 or 70. Some medical factors will disqualify a person from participating, especially in earlier trials. And all patients will not complete the study, for various reasons…and their data is unusable for the most part, which is another factor in gathering enough of the required information. (This all adds significantly to the cost and the time it takes!).

    Some study facilities advertise for patients or work with area physicians and hospitals to let them know what studies are taking place. Some private doctors also conduct at their offices, usually in their particular specialty, as do area hospitals. They all must meet the strict standards of patient care needed to protect the patient and insure good data. Study medications are kept locked and carefully dispensed and all remaining medications are collected from patients at the end of the study.

    If a person fails to show up at some point for a scheduled visit, all manner of means are used to locate them, and if they are then released from the study, their medication is picked up. Should you ever decide to participate in a study, this is an overview of what the best care would look like, and what to expect…from an appropriate facility or doctor. The FDA can also make investigative random visits to assure the integrity of the study and the safety of the participants.

    The downside is this ALL costs the pharmaceutical companies! A lot!! Tens of millions of dollars can be spent for just a simple chemical compound to be tested…and then the company only has about 17 years patent life, WHICH STARTED IMMEDIATLY when they first filed the chemical to be approved for research, even before the animal trials begin! So the clock is ticking, and this is really not much time to reimburse the 15 to 20 million dollars they spent getting a drug ready to market! Let alone all the marketing costs themselves!

    After the patent runs out, there is now no protection for the pharmaceutical company covering the “ownership” of the chemical or active ingredient…so other companies can start cashing in by making generics. However, the inactive ingredients remain the sole property of the pharmaceutical compan who patented the compound initially. (And that formula can remain protected!). This means generics are made with potentially differing ingredients as fillers and binders. That’s why they can have varying effects for individuals. And not all generics are the same, for this reason, too.

    Maybe this information will explain why new medications are so very expensive, aside from just the drive for MORE profits we see in most businesses! This also points up why it takes so long to get new medications to us! A complex new chemical found today could take well over ten or twelve years to get on the market! So, in all drug research, it is very important for our researchers to keep looking for any compound that might help…and start the projects as soon as possible. Funding unfortunately is always an issue, as is being apporoved by the FDA to begin the studies in the first place! So companies weigh all this, and also how large the patient population is before they even begin. It looks like all the millions of people with pain would be a great incentive for any company! However, the ever present politics and the power of some companies, plus costs can keep a chemical compound from even being considered further. Or research can even discontinued before it’s finished, for financial reasons, as well as many other reasons!

    I hope this information also gives you an idea of why it’s so important to realize your age and any medical conditions you have may influence the medication you take…and how you personally respond to it! And those effects can often be unknown, especially when a medication is first out or if a condition you have wasn’t allowed for the study. Plus, dosage safety can depend on kidney function and metabolism and other factors, and medication can sometimes accumulate in your system. So it’s always important to take YOU into consideration when starting any new medication or medicine NEW TO YOU! And realize it could affect you in ways not listed or known. (Allergies can even develop from one dose to the next, because it takes varying times for antibodies to form. This means you can have a reaction to a medication you’ve taken before, and you just need to be aware of this. It’s not the norm, although I have seen this and especially with antibiotics. Food can act in the same way!)

    It’s also important to report any odd effects to the FDA, since there are few post-marketing studies on new medicines other that what is reported by patients and physicians. There is usually a number listed to call on the pharmacy’s particular prescription information, if you have questions about your response or a side effect or untoward effect that isn’t listed in the literature! And your doctor needs to know, too! However, some physicians aren’t aware of all the restrictions in pharmaceutical reaseach which could influence their patients…so once again, you are the FIRST and LAST line of defense for yourself with new medications too! PLUS our physicians have many, many patients to care for and oversee—and you just have the SINGLE and most important one…YOURSELF! And you’re worth taking good care of! Always!

  6. Brun at 11:05 am

    Wonder if it works on or related to han canabanoid receptors like pot.

  7. Matthew J. Smith at 10:11 am

    While I am excited to see ANYONE making efforts to find new ways to treat pain, I must temper my enthusiasm with the knowledge that it will be some time before this makes its way through all the testing, and clinical trials, finally making it to market. Then we have to see what side effects it may come with, and (sadly) how much such a new patented drug will cost. But, it still gives me hope !

  8. Deborah Babcock at 9:55 am

    Have they taken into consideration that snails melt and die if salt is on them..our bodies contain salt. This is absurd to even think about..

  9. connie at 7:41 am

    This holds promise a decade or more down the road. In the meantime we need to be allowed to utilize opiates which have a proven record of pain relief!

  10. Julie at 7:24 am

    Is this snail Medicine already in the market? I suffer from chronic sciatica pain.

  11. Mary Ellen Faysal at 4:28 am

    I remember years ago reading up on this research. It was presented to me by Dr. Daniel Carr who was with Tufts New England Medical Hospital at the time. He was in charge of the pain clinic there, but has left to do research. I know there were some side effects that concerned me at the time when I read up on this. One being memory loss which concerned me, among others I can’t think of right now. It was only to be part of the study and I declined at that time because of domestic of those effects on the body.