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Valuable poisons

Studies with poisonous animals have resulted in the licensing of seven patents, candidates for medicines

ROBERTO P. MORAESThe hairy caterpillar: potential for treating thrombosis and tumorsROBERTO P. MORAES

Synthesized starting from the venom of the pit viper, of the rattle snake, of the bristles of the hairy caterpillar and of the saliva of the cayenne tick, molecules developed by the Applied Toxicology Center (CAT), with its headquarters at the Butantan Institute, have already resulted in seven (7) licensed patents for Consórcio Farmacêutico (Coinfar), a consortium formed between the laboratories Biolab-Sanus, União Química and Biosintética. With the signing of the licensing contract, finalized in January of this year, the consortium commits itself of funding all of the research necessary so that these molecules can then be transformed into new medicines, as pre-clinical studies, which consisted, among others, of toxicology tests have shown. These tests were done on animals and in clinics with human beings.

Three of these patents are directed towards anti-hypertension, the so-called evasins, acronym in English for: endogenous vasopeptidase inhibitor, obtained from the venom of the pit viper (Bothrops jararaca). These anti-hypertension drugs have been in the pre-clinical trial stage for more than two years at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).”It is probable that during this year we will go into clinical trials”, says professor Antonio Carlos Martins de Camargo, the head of the CAT, one of the ten Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepid) financed by FAPESP.

Two other patents refer to the protein named lopap, removed from the bristles that cover the body of the caterpillar Lonomia obliqua, which has shown itself to have the potential of transforming itself into a medicine for the treatment of thrombosis. The first lopap patent deals with obtaining and describing the protein starting from the bristles, and its indicated use in the prevention of thrombosis. And the second is with respect to obtaining and the use of the recombinant protein produced starting from genetically modified bacteria.

The last two licensed patents, deal with, respectively, a protein of analgesic potential called enpak (endogenous pain killer), obtained from the venom of the rattlesnake (Crotalus terrificus) (see Pesquisa FAPESP nº 100), and of a protein with a coagulation  inhibitor factor, extracted from the saliva of the cayenne tick,  Amblyomma cajennense, named amblyomin-X. In a single dose, the enpak has shown itself to have an analgesic power that is six hundred (600) times greater than that of morphine. The amblyomin-X shows itself to be active on various cultures of tumor cells, however, without damaging the normal cells,  as was related by Dr. Ana Marisa Chudzinski-Tavassi, from the Biochemical and Biophysics Laboratory of the Butantan Institute, the coordinator for the research with lopap and amblyomin-X. “Mice with melanoma have had complete remission of their tumors and one year later they’re still alive and healthy”, Ana Marisa explains.

The CAT has been receiving from FAPESP close to US$ 900,000.00 per year.  Nevertheless, some costs, such as maintaining a team to look after the part of administration, cannot be paid for through this sum of money. These expenses have been financed from the monies passed by the Coinfar, corresponding to 10% of the investment put up by the Foundation. Starting from the signing of the patent licensing contract, the consortium is responsible for the development costs of the products. “If they were to go onto the pharmacy shelves, each one of the trio, the Butantan Institute, FAPESP and the Coinfar Consortium, would receive one third of the royalties from sales”, professor Camargo advised.