News

This page is for stories in the media concerning plankton. l aim to keep it updated with topical articles and accompany these with comments and images e-mailed to me by others. This will really benefit from other peoples input - for obvious reasons!

Sunday Times, UK, 23rd may 1999

Poisons from snail kills human pain

A poison used by sea snails to kill prey is being hailed as a painkiller a thousand times stronger than morphine, writes Bruce Kemble.

Scientists discovered that the cone snail, found on tropical reefs, shoots, a harpoon carrying the venom at passing fish. The poison kills the fish which the snail then reels in.

A team of American researchers hopes to harness the poison's power and turn it into a painkiller.

George Miljanich, a neuroscientist and biochemist at the University of Southern California who works for the Neurex corporation, is heading the team trying to convert the snail's poison into a painkilling drug.

He says: "This is a major breakthrough in the treatment of pain. We call it Ziconotide and it doesn't have any side effects at all as far as we know."

"Cone-snail venom is very effective at paralysing fish by acting on the nervous system. As it blocks a fish's nervous system so well, we thought it might be effective in blocking the nervous system of humans."

He thought that harvesting the venom of millions of snails was impractical so he decided to identify the ingredients of the poison. He had to establish its molecular structure and find a way to copy it. "We discovered it is a calcium blocker and it blocks communications from one nerve cell to another," he says.

Signals from a growth or an injury are normally transmitted to the brain where they are perceived as pain. Ziconotide blocks these signals' routes to the brain, leaving the rest of the nervous system working normally and stopping the pain message getting through.

The Elan corporation, the company marketing Ziconotide, is applying to the US Food and Drug Administration for a licence to allow the new painkiller to be approved for public use.

Robert Presley, a doctor who has been testing Ziconotide at San Jose, California, says: "Our rate of success has been 90%. We have used it on patients with the most difficult, intractable problems. Nine out of 10 get at least partial relief."

Presley has tried Ziconotide on more than 400 patients in severe pain and claims that it is one of the most important drug developments in years.

He says: "This is really the first compound to become available that is completely different from morphine and its other opium cousins, yet more potent than them.

"Things like aspirin help for small things, but if you've got cancer all over your body aspirin is not going to do much for you. If you don't respond to morphine, there's really nothing else.

"At present, morphine is the gold-standard pain medication. However, that's not going to be the case for very long: Ziconotide will take over."

cone shell.jpg (66153 bytes)

Conus marmoreus, The Marbled Cone

 

 

 

Textile cone - rog.jpg (90266 bytes)

Conus textile - Cloth of Gold Cone

 

 

 

 

cone harpoon.jpg (45844 bytes)

Harpoon From the Omaria Cone

 

Business Week Magazine, 3rd January 1999

New Drugs Show Promise for Arthritis & Pain

The hottest new drug for severe chronic pain is Ziconotide. This drug is derived from the paralyzing venom of Conus sea snails. The drug specifically targets the
junctions where pain nerves enter the spine, effectively blocking the pain signal from entering the spinal tract carrying pain sensation to the brain. The effects seem to be
limited to this area of the spine, and first reports note few remarkable side effects. A test case was reported on a patient who was in severe chonic pain, who was at the
stage where morphine and dilaudid pumps gave her some relief at the price of the side effects of high dose narcotics. She was experiencing suicidal ideation, in a
borderline "life." After one month on Ziconotide, she showed significant improvement. "Wow, I was happy," she said. In the following months, she begain physical
therapy, began walking, lost weight gained from inactivity, returned to college, and danced at a wedding. "Now," she says, "I can think. I can express my feelings. I can
have children, finish school. I can have a life." She is a 27 year-old with a congenital spine dysfunction that became debilitating at age 14 from an injury and seven spinal
surgeries.

Finally the FDA has approved a new class of drugs known as Cox-2 Inhibitors. This drugs precisely targets a key pain-triggering enzyme found around inflamed joints.
While it is not being reported that there is more pain relief compared to NSAIDS, the gastric irritation of the NSAID class is greatly reduced. The trade names are:
Celebrex (Monsanto Co., available now), and Vioxx (Merck & Co., available in May '99).

Another new anti-inflammatory is Enbrel (Immunex Corp.), which is advertised as a drug which boosts the body's ability to stop or reduce painful inflammation. This
drug is approved for treatment of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and has been reported as a "significant advancement" in the treatment of JRA.
For patients who require morphine to treat their pain, Algos Pharmaceutical Corp. has filed for approval of MorphiDex, a drug which increases the effectiveness of
morphine without increasing the dose by combining Dextromethorphan (DM) and morphine. The DM prevents a nerve receptor (NMDA) from releasing secondary pain
signals that prevent opiates from working.

Abbott Laboratories is testing ABT-594, a new drug based on a toxin in the skin of frogs and animal trials show it to be 50 times more effective than morphine per dose.

A different approach to managing pain is being tested by CytoTherapeutics. Human trials using cow adrenal cells implanted at the base of the spine. The implanted cells
continuously secrete natural painkilling substances to bolster the body's own defenses.

Myelos Neurosciences Corp. is in the second phase of testing nerve regenerating drug Prosaptide TX14(a), to treat patients with shingles, phantom limb pain, diabetics
with searing pain in the extremities, and other neuropathic pain disorders.

Last November, Anesta Corp. got approval to market Actiq, a crystallized form of Fentanyl that is very fast acting for use with intense flare-ups and break through pain.

There is a trend toward making drugs target more narrowly to reduce side effects. Warner-Lambert, Pfizer, and others are making efforts to develop drugs that are
effective on pain but do not cause the narcotic side effects of depressed respiration, constipation, nausea, drowsiness, etc.

If you are an investor, a patient, or both, keep an eye on what these companies are doing. One of these new drugs may pay off like Viagra did for Pfizer!

 

news.JPG (5383 bytes)     Site with  more information on Cone snails and Ziconotide. Includes avi's of Cone snails hunting and information on the European clinical trials of Ziconotide. news.JPG (5383 bytes)      Information on pain research using Ziconotide by Dr. Robert. J. Henderson.
     Short biography on George P. Miljanich, Ph.D.

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