Last week researchers at the University of Utah announced that the school had received $10 million from the Department of Defense to expand their investigation into sea cone snail venom to determine if it may be viable as a non-addictive, safe substitute for prescription opioids.
Moreover, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers seeks to aid in the future development of a synthetic form of the venom that can be used as an alternative to painkillers such as oxycodone and fentanyl.
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, two researchers at the university have already isolated and long-studied portions of the cone snail venom and found that it contains peptides with numbing properties as effective as painkillers. Cone snails use this venom to immobilize and eat prey.
In 2004, the researcher’s work resulted in the development of Prialt, a medication used for persons with severe pain when opioids like morphine are not effective. The drug has limited use, however, because it is administered via injection into the spinal cord.
Recently, the researchers have also collaborated with Kineta, Inc., a biotechnology company that seeks to create a similar pain reliever that can be injected like a vaccine. The project is also partially funded by the military.
And now, the Department of Defense is funding $10 million to the university’s research to determine if the snail’s venom compounds and the venom of other sea organisms can be used as alternatives to addictive prescription painkillers.
Indeed, a portion of the money will be spent searching for new pain-killing compounds from the venom of different kinds of marine animals.
Researchers from multiple departments, including the departments of, medicinal chemistry, anesthesiology, biology and psychiatry, pharmacology and toxicology will collaborate in the project. They plan to take trips annually to gather new sea material.