Venoms as a platform for human drugs: translating toxins into therapeutics

Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2011 Nov;11(11):1469-84. doi: 10.1517/14712598.2011.621940. Epub 2011 Sep 23.


Introduction: An extraordinarily diverse range of animals have evolved venoms for predation, defence, or competitor deterrence. The major components of most venoms are peptides and proteins that are often protease-resistant due to their disulfide-rich architectures. Some of these toxins have become valuable as pharmacological tools and/or therapeutics due to their extremely high specificity and potency for particular molecular targets. There are currently six FDA-approved drugs derived from venom peptides or proteins.

Areas covered: This article surveys the current pipeline of venom-derived therapeutics and critically examines the potential of peptide and protein drugs derived from venoms. Emerging trends are identified, including an increasing industry focus on disulfide-rich venom peptides and the use of a broader array of molecular targets in order to develop venom-based therapeutics for treating a wider range of clinical conditions.

Expert opinion: Key technical advances in combination with a renewed industry-wide focus on biologics have converged to provide a larger than ever pipeline of venom-derived therapeutics. Disulfide-rich venom peptides obviate some of the traditional disadvantages of therapeutic peptides and some may be suitable for oral administration. Moreover, some venom peptides can breach the blood brain barrier and translocate across cell membranes, which opens up the possibility of exploiting molecular targets not previously accessible to peptide drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Products / chemistry
  • Biological Products / pharmacology*
  • Biological Products / therapeutic use
  • Disulfides / chemistry
  • Disulfides / pharmacology*
  • Disulfides / therapeutic use
  • Drug Discovery*
  • Humans
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / pharmacology*
  • Peptides / therapeutic use
  • Protein Conformation
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Venoms / chemistry
  • Venoms / pharmacology*
  • Venoms / therapeutic use


  • Biological Products
  • Disulfides
  • Peptides
  • Venoms