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Medicines from snake poison

Center for Applied Toxicology to do research into the pharmaceutical use of animal toxins

The use of animal and microorganism toxins in the preparation of drugs for pharmaceutical use will be the focus of research by the center for Applied Toxicology. “Undoubtedly, we will find molecules that will form the basis for the development of new medicines”, predicts Antonio Carlos Martins de Camargo, the director for the Center.

The Center is associated with the Butantan Institute, whose research tradition  goes back to the beginning of the century. Carmargo recalls that until recently, the Institute was entirely dedicated to laboratory work without any investment in the application of this know-how. But Butantan has since modernized, including among its number, groups of young doctors, forming a multidiscipline team that has contributed to a major step forward in the practical use of this know-how. The research work will be done in partnership with the University of São Paulo, with the São Paulo State University (Unesp) and with the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), formerly the Paulista (São Paulo) School of Medicine.

The use of toxins in the preparation of new drugs is an international tendency that can be witnessed in the large number of applications for poison from various organisms, such as snakes, scorpions and spiders, all of which are registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office – USPTO. The Center’s research scientists have already begun a partnership with their peers at Liverpool University in the United Kingdom and with the Health Science Center of the University of Virginia, USA, in studies of Brazilian snake poison which prevents cellular adhesion and has major potential in the treatment of metastasis.

The study of toxins opens up various fronts for research. Besides blocking the growth of tumors, Brazilian snake poison is a cocktail of proteins that disorganizes the vascular system and has an enormous pharmaceutical application in the treatment of cardiac disturbances. The poison of other insects, such as the spider, for example, produces toxins that can be used to treat inflammatory conditions.

The study of toxins will also help unveil the mystery of certain physiopathological  mechanisms that are still unknown. “ In the snake poison was found a toxin with high homology to hormones which act on the renal ionic equilibrium, secretion of hormones, etc.”, Camargo exemplifies.

To bridge the gap between research and its commercial application, the Center intends to create a program in partnership with industry. This will facilitate the access to those that are interested in the research projects developed by the three universities. If there is mutual interest in a given research project, an agreement will be established for the development of new drugs. “There is no question that business and other organizations will be very interested in the work of this multi-institutional Center”, commented oneof the members  of the selection board responsible for classifying the proposal.

The Butantan Institute already runs community programs on animals and poisonous microorganisms, besides preparing courses on the poisonous animals and first aid seminars for the Armed Forces, police and private companies. With the support of FAPESP, the Center intends to increase its activities to include courses on disease transmitted by microorganisms and on the conservation of the bio-diversity. The Center is also to begin courses on medical biotechnology and  training for the development of new medicines and biotechnology processes.