Brazilian viper venom may be the cure for Covid-19 scientists have been searching for. Researchers in Brazil have found that molecules in a specific type of snake viper venom possess the potential to stop the spread of coronavirus reproduction in monkey cells.
A positive step toward a drug that could fight against Covid-19, the study published in the open scientific journal Molecules this month found that the Brazilian jararacussu pit viper was effective at inhibiting the virus’ ability to multiply in the monkey’s cells by around 75%.
One of the largest snakes in Brazil, the jararacussu pit viper measures up to 6 feet long and is also found along the Atlantic Forest coast in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. “We were able to show this component of snake venom was able to inhibit a very important protein from the virus,” said Rafael Guido, author of the viper venom study and a professor at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
According to the study, the viper venom molecule extracted is a peptide, which is a chain of amino acids that can connect to enzymes of the coronavirus known as “PLPro.” If effective in humans as well, blocking these specific coronavirus’ enzymes would halt the virus from multiplying further, and without damaging the cells.
Guido also said that the viper venom peptide can be reproduced in a laboratory, meaning that we could produce the molecules without having to collect every known Brazillian jararacussu pit viper just to obtain their venom.
“We’re wary about people going out to hunt the jararacussu around Brazil, thinking they’re going to save the world,” said Giuseppe Puorto, who runs the Butantan Institute’s biological collection in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but, “that’s not it!” According to Puorto, “It’s not the venom itself that will cure the coronavirus,” but the molecules inside the jararacussu viper venom.
Many more tests will have to be completed before findings prove successful. Researchers will need to evaluate the efficiency of many different varieties of the molecules. The State University of Sao Paulo warned that they would first have to confirm that the molecule is able to prevent the virus from even entering the cells.
A similar study published in April, which looked at the effectiveness of snake venom from Lebanon and France, found that the molecules might also be useful in combatting cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, heart failures, heart arrhythmias, and coronary artery disease.
“Various studies have shown that snake venom compounds can cause a range of biological effects on the local and systemic level,” the study read. “These life-threatening conditions caused by venom components lead scientists to study and characterize the molecules of interest with the aim of turning out these toxins into a source of life-saving therapeutics.”
Using viper venom to treat diseases or viruses like Covid-19 may sound just as insane as taking anti-pesticidal medication made for horses – as theorists on the internet have largely spread as false and dangerous medical advice – but there’s actually previous history with snake venom as a potential medicine.
Approved by the FDA in 1981, a drug named captopril was approved from the venom of a Brazilian pit viper, and is commonly prescribed as an ingredient in medication for people with abnormally high blood pressure.
According to CNN, “two more drugs – eptifibatide and tirofiban – based on venoms from the dusky pygmy rattlesnake and saw-scaled viper, respectively, were approved in the late 1990s to treat other heart conditions.”
“Toxins have evolved for millions of years to target a specific receptor,” which makes them perfect for immobilizing viruses, said Kini Manjunatha, a professor of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore. The toxins can break down other toxins in the body, and Manjunatha’s work studies viper venom’s effect as a painkiller on mice, which works similar to aspirin.
Tests so far have only been conducted on animals but the study’s authors did not provide any timelines provided for human tests.