If you’ve never heard of a jararacussu you certainly have plenty of company. The jararacussu is a poisonous snake. They are most commonly found in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina, and when people living there see one, they quickly go in the opposite direction. Researchers, on the other hand, draw closer, hoping to learn all they can about them. That’s because its venom may be helpful in the battle against COVID.
According to an article that appeared in the scientific journal Molecules, researchers have found that a molecule in the jararacussu’s venom inhibited the coronavirus from reproducing. A study done on monkey cells found that the molecule restricted the virus’s ability to multiply by 75%.
The Name Fits
The literal meaning of the word jararacussu is “large snake,” certainly appropriate because it grows up to six feet long. But more important, herpetologists say this is not the only discovery of a potential therapeutic from this viper. In fact, its venom and those of other snakes have been found helpful in treating hypertension, congestive heart failure, some cancers, and other serious conditions.
And no one is trying to sell snake oil - far from it. Over the past decades, a very fascinating trend has been evolving in science: snake venom, which has killed so many people over the millennia, is increasingly being used in treating, healing, and even prolonging life. And these claims have been validated.
In addition to the jararacussu, molecules from many other snakes have been identified for their possible therapeutic properties and are being studied in great detail. Quite a number have already been approved by the FDA and are being prescribed by doctors.
Who could have imagined this turn of events? Poisonous snakes are very dangerous because their bites interfere with the function of vital systems in the body. If left untreated - even for as little as a few minutes - they can be fatal. Now we are being told how helpful these might be. There is a simple explanation: Researchers are using new technologies to turn dangerous toxins into life-saving therapeutics. Following are just a few of these medicines.
*Captopril, said to be the first venom-derived drug to get government okay, has been found to be very helpful in treating high blood pressure and heart failure. After it was approved, other drugs based on the same principle were developed and are now being used.
*Ziconotide is a synthetically-made version of a toxin found in certain snails and is used to treat severe pain.
*Eptifibatide was developed based on a component found in southeastern pygmy rattlesnake venom; it is used in anti-coagulation therapy.
*Exenatide is a synthetic version of a hormone present in the saliva of the Gila Monster that is used to treat Type 2 diabetes, along with insulin and other drugs.
*Batroxobin is derived from vipers living east of the Andes in South America. Some versions of this drug are used to stop bleeding, while other variations are used to break up blood clots.
The National Institute of Health summed up this approach to developing new medicines this way: “Snake venom components have shown great potential for the development of lead compounds for new drugs...There is a continuous development of new drugs from snake venom” used to treat many diseases, illnesses, and serious conditions.
Something New, Something Old
Snake venom used as medicine is among the newest treatments - and also is among the oldest. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. During the Roman empire, it was used in combination with other medicines to treat smallpox, leprosy, fever, and wounds.
In the 19th century, Albert Calmette injected animals with small amounts of venom and then used their blood as an antidote. More recently, companies around the world, ranging from the largest pharmaceuticals to tiny start-up biotechs, are focusing on this.
In addition to the drugs that have already been approved by the FDA, there are numerous others that are in various stages of clinical or preclinical trials. But when researchers finally finish studying all of those, they still won’t be able to take time off.
More than 100,000 venomous species have been identified around the world, and each of these is capable of producing venom that often contain upwards of 100 different molecules. Unfortunately, rainforests, which are home to many poisonous snakes, are being destroyed at an alarming rate. This could potentially deprive the world of much-needed medicines and possibly related products as well.
It’s still not certain whether the molecules derived from the jararacussu will ever become approved as a medicine in the battle against COVID. But they do show lots of potential, and with the virus once again causing widespread death, illness, and fear, the world can use all the help it can get.
So that’s the good news. But there’s just one little problem: If the venom does get approved by the FDA, you’ll have to get yet another jab. Are you ready to roll up your sleeve again?
Sources: healthline.com; medicineplus.gov; nih.gov; webmd.com; wikipedia.org; zerohedge.com