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Creepy crawly lifesaver: Spider venom may hold key to treating heart attacks


Some people would nearly have a heart attack if they came across a funnel web, but Australia’s most feared spider may hold the key to treating one.

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Queensland researchers will next year start human trials on a drug, containing a molecule from funnel web venom, which could prevent cell damage caused by heart attacks.

University of Queensland researchers first discovered the potential of the drug, called IB001, last year.

The university will now set up a start-up company to develop the drug after receiving $23 million from private investors.

UQ Associate Professor Mark Smythe said IB001 could be the world’s first drug to prevent cell damage caused by heart attacks.

“Infensa Bioscience hopes to start Phase I clinical trials as a heart attack treatment in Queensland next year,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“This is a game-changing technology that could have worldwide impacts and is being developed and funded right here in Australia.”

Smythe said cell damage caused by heart attacks was currently the world’s leading cause of death.

He said that’s because human hearts are unable to regenerate muscle cells that die during cardiac arrest.

“Which is why these injuries cause permanent damage and can lead to heart failure, disability and reduced quality of life,” Smythe said.

“IB001 blocks the signals that cause heart cells to die, and when given immediately to heart attack victims could reduce damage to the heart and significantly improve outcomes for people with heart disease, particularly in rural and remote regions.”

UQ’s Professor Glenn King and Associate Professor Nathan Palpant first discovered that IB001 could prevent heart muscle cell death last year.

Professor Peter Macdonald from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and Professor Rob Widdop at Monash University also worked on the drug.

Smythe will be the chief executive of the new start-up company, which will be called Infensa Bioscience.

It gets that name from the arachnid whose venom contains the molecule that is the key ingredient in IB001.

The Fraser Island funnel web’s scientific name is Hadronyche infensa, while the local Butchulla people call it mudjar nhiling guran meaning “long-toothed spider”.

The company plans to raise more funding to develop drugs to treat stroke and to extend the life of donor hearts used in organ transplants.

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