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Venomous snail provides Eisai with new painkiller

Published on 07/07/06 at 10:32am

Patients suffering severe chronic pain have new hope of relief thanks to a venomous sea snail found off the coast of the Phillipines.

The deadly venom from the sea snail inspired the development of the new drug called Prialt, which has just been launched in the UK.

The drug was originally developed by Elan, but is being marketed by the Japanese company, Eisai.

Prialt (ziconotide) is an N-type calcium channel blocker and is a synthetic version of the naturally occurring peptide found in the venom of the sea snail, Conus magus.

Scientists studying the snail's hunting habits discovered it captures its prey by shooting out a thin, wormlike tube into fish that swim by. It then injects its venom into the fish, paralysing it and then swallowing it whole.

Prialt works by targeting and blocking N-type calcium channels on nerves that transmit pain signals, and offers hope to patients who are no longer responding to opioids or have become intolerant to them.

The drug is the first non-opioid intrathecal analgesic to be approved in Europe and has been given orphan drug status in recognition of the specialised condition it treats.

Dr Karen Simpson, consultant in pain management at Leeds University Hospitals said: "The impact of persistent pain on daily living is unimaginable to most people, and when it does not respond to first-line treatments, it is often devastating for the patients and their carers. Prialt is allowing me to treat some patients for whom previously I had run out of options."

Eisai says clinical studies of the drug have shown it effective in treating non-cancer and cancer-related severe, chronic pain.

Almost all patients taking the drug will, however, experience side-effects, including dizziness and nausea, and Eisai says these can be minimised by slowly increasing the dose as necessary.

Prialt was developed by Elan, the Irish pharmaceutical company, which sold the European marketing rights to Eisai in February for 84 million euros.

Elan originally forecast Prialt to earn $150 million worldwide, but sales in the US, where Elan retains marketing rights, have been below expectation.

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