SIVASISH THAKUR

GUWAHATI, Feb 3: Snake venoms can be effective in the treatment of dreaded diseases such as cancer. Today’s scientific advancements have made it possible to transform these life-threatening toxins into life-saving therapeutics.

A study by eminent toxinologist Dr Ashis Kumar Mukherjee, Director, Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology (IASST), Guwahati, systematically discusses the numerous Indian snake venom toxins that have been reported with anti-cancer activity and concludes that venom-derived anti-cancer drugs can be very effective in combating the disease.

The article also focuses on the associated challenges in the development of candidate venom toxins as anti-cancer drug prototypes for clinical applications, and commercialisation of such drugs.

“It is possible to transform Indian snake venoms from deadly toxins to anti-cancer therapeutics. Lots of research is going on in this regard. Successful development on this front followed by commercialisation of venom-derived anti-cancer drugs can bring in new vistas in cancer cure,” Dr Mukherjee told The Assam Tribune.

Dr Mukherjee who is on deputation from Tezpur University, said that given the kind of research going on towards the development of alternative strategies to combat cancer, the application and commercialisation of Indian snake venom toxins in cancer therapy have tremendous potential in the near future.

“In the recent decades, there has been an increasing amount of scientific reports on the isolated components of Indian snake venoms with anti-cancer potential,” he added.

The article by Dr Mukherjee titled From venom to drugs: A review and critical analysis of Indian snake venom toxins envisaged as anti-cancer drug prototypespublished in Drug Discovery Today, has been co-authored by Anthony J Saviola, a toxinologist from The Scripps Research Institute, California, USA, and Bhargab Kalita, a researcher at the National Centre Cell Science, Pune.

“Snakes are fascinating creatures that have inhabited our planet from well before ancient humans. Venomous snakes have always been a figure of dread as they can cause notable mortality and morbidity throughout the world. India is home to several species of snakes and while approximately 50 are considered as venomous, the ‘Big Four’ comprising the Russell’s viper, the spectacled cobra, the common krait and the saw-scaled viper account for most cases of envenoming, morbidity and mortality in our country,” Dr Mukherjee said.

Snake venoms primarily contain proteins and peptides that disrupt normal fundamental physiological systems of the envenomed victim. Nevertheless, in their isolated form, these toxins are often non-toxic and scientists have been able to mould those into life-saving therapeutics via technological advancements.

“Several snake venom components have demonstrated tremendous potential for the development of new therapeutics to counteract cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Notably, snake venoms are also used to treat joint pain, inflammation and arthritis in ayurveda medicine,” Dr Mukherjee said.

Snake venoms have the highest toxicity potential that makes them an attractive option in the development of anti-cancer agents. Evolution of modern high throughput screening systems has helped to recognise and extract new therapeutic substances from biotoxins such as venoms of several snakes that show promising potential to combat cancer. Growing understanding of molecular mechanism is also contributing in this direction.