Venom based Drugs – A New Era of Antibiotics

For many decades antibiotics have been used to treat bacterial infections. However, their repeated usage has resulted in multi-drug-resistant strains. This is because bacteria mutate or change their DNA so that the drugs don’t kill them. In addition, hospital infections can’t be treated by those drugs which can even lead to death of the patient. Therefore, scientists have been trying to search for alternative new therapeutic agents with bactericidal and bacteriostatic properties.

Starting from the beginning of the new millennium, many studies have shown that venoms from different animals have antibacterial properties. These include snake (Perumal Samy et al. 2007; Al Ahmadi et al. 2010), spider (Haeberli et al. 2000; Budnik et al. 2004), scorpion (Conde et al., 2000), honeybee (EL-Feel et al. 2015) and wasp (Jalaei et al., 2014; De la Fuente et al., 2020).

Different drugs, Source: Pixabay

De la Fuente and his colleagues (2020) studied the venom of Vespula lewisii wasps. From the venom, they found a small protein known as mastoparan-L. Although this protein is toxic to human cells, it was also found to affect bacterial cells. Using this as an encouragement, they engineered mastoparan-L and tested it on infected mice. Compared to its original form, the engineered form of the protein was more effective in killing the bacteria.

“The principles and approaches we used in this study can be applied more broadly to better understand the antimicrobial and immune-modulating properties of peptide molecules, and to harness that understanding to make valuable new treatments,” De la Fuente said.

Hernandez-Aponte et al. (2001) extracted an antibacterial peptide from the Mexican scorpion Vaejovis mexicanus known as Vejovine. This protein was found to be effective on Gram-negative bacteria species such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Acinetobacter baumanii. Lourival Possani and Richard Zare (2019), another research team tested venom from the Mexican scorpion Diplocentrus melici to find that it contains two alkaloid compounds with antimicrobial properties.

“We hope that these compounds and simple chemical derivatives from them might become new, potent drugs to help people,” says Zare. “The synthesis changes the cost and makes their widespread use feasible.”

Just like Alexander Fleming discovered the fungus Penicillium rubens which produced the antibiotic Penicillin to kill bacteria, now researchers have found that venomous animals also have antibacterial properties in their venoms. This shows that other species have defensive mechanisms against infections. Perhaps this is their own way of survival. Since the human body doesn’t have that ability to produce antibiotics on it’s own, we have to explore other alternatives to replace the previous drugs. In Fleming’s own words

“The more complex the world becomes, the more difficult it is to complete something without the cooperation with others.”

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