SEATTLE – A local biotechnology company is using toxins from sea anemones and the cone snail to treat a range of autoimmune diseases from lupus to arthritis. In addition, researchers are exploring the use of these same toxins to treat obesity. The use of animal products to treat serious diseases signals the industry’s gradual move toward chemical-based medicines.
Dr. Shawn Iadonato, Kineta‘s chief scientific officer and executive vice president said, “We think the natural route is still under-explored, and there are lots of opportunities for new drugs that are very effective and potent.”
Clinical trials are underway for the synthetic compound ShK-186 which would be used to treat autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, psoriatic arthritis and lupus. The compound is originally derived from a sea anemone toxin. Current medications for autoimmune patients have a myriad of side effects including the suppression of the patient’s immune system. According to researchers, Shk-186 would suppress the inflammatory processes in the disease while maintaining normal immune function. The compound targets only the cells that cause tissue damage.
An additional and unexpected discovery finds that ShK-186 may also enhance metabolic activity, giving researchers hope that it could potentially be used as a treatment for obesity.
Researchers are also working with the venom of the cone snail which may offer pain relief without the side effects of narcotics. The Rg1a peptide found in cone snail venom was used to create Conotoxin Rg1a, which researchers say can block pain signals from transmitting to the brain without affecting the brain itself, possibly eliminating potential tolerance or addiction. It does not alter cognition or suppress respiration like frequently used narcotics.
The therapies are in early stages of development and will likely not be available to the public for at least five to seven years.