New drugs are being created from deadly Australian sea snail venom

Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Australian researchers have discovered thousands of new toxins hidden deep within the venom of one type of Queensland sea cone snail.

The new molecules are promising leads for new drugs to treat pain and cancer.

The scientists from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience developed a new method to analyse the structure of the venom toxins, allowing them to delve deeper than ever before.

“Cone snail venom is known to contain toxins proven to be valuable drug leads,” says professor Paul Alewood.

“This study gives the first-ever snapshot of the toxins that exist in the venom of a single cone snail. Cone snail venoms are a complex cocktail of many chemicals and most of these toxins have been overlooked in the past.”

Using the new method the researchers discovered the highest number of peptides or mini-proteins produced in a single cone snail.

“We also discovered six original frameworks – 3D-shaped molecules suitable as drug leads – which we expect will support drug development in the near future,” Alewood says.

There are 25 known frameworks discovered over the past 25 years many of which have already led to a drug or drug lead for several diseases.

The species studied, conus episcopatus, is found along the east coast of Australia and is one of 700 different cone snails.

The new method of analysis can also be used in research on other animal venoms.

The study, published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) journal, was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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