Venoms as Cancer Treatment

Background

Venoms have been of interest for their anti-cancer activity since as long ago as the 1930s, and much more recently it has been found that they are, in fact, capable of targeting specific molecules found in abundance on the surface of cells of several types of cancer. When these molecules are deactivated, further growth of the cells is prevented, thereby halting the cancer in its course. The interest in this kind of treatment for cancers comes both from the continuous need for alternative therapies, due to the ability of cancers to evolve in response to treatment, and also from the fact that there are far fewer side effects from targeted treatments as compared to treatments that act by killing cells more broadly, such as chemotherapy.

What is the project scope?

Canterbury Christ Church University has identified components of animal venoms that may be effective in treating several cancers, in particular breast and pancreatic cancers.

Kent Cancer Trust was asked to support the provision of supplies for this project and felt that because of its potential the idea should be fully explored. KCT agreed to fund the consumables necessary to support the breast cancer aspect of this project and will look to provide further support as resources become available.

Canterbury Christ Church University work closely with Venomtech Limited to provide the necessary venoms for the project. A PhD scholar, Danielle McCullough, has been appointed and she is investigating the potential of using animal venoms in the treatment of breast cancer. An outline of her research to date can be seen by clicking  here

Project update – July 2019

Over the course of the last four years, CCCU PhD student Danielle’s work on venoms has focussed on the activity of venoms from various species of snake, scorpion, tarantula and centipede on triple-negative breast cancer cells. Her work has involved analysing the anti-cancer activity of not only the crude venoms as extracted from the animals they originate from, but also the activity of the different components of the venoms once separated out from each other.

Danielle’s work on venom components has shown that the anti-cancer properties of venoms don’t come from the actual toxicity of the venom. Instead, venoms work as an anti-cancer treatment by binding to proteins on the surface of many types of cancer cells, known as EGF receptors, slowing, or even halting, their growth. One of the downsides of treatments that target EGF receptors is that there can be off-target effects, where other proteins with a similar structure to EGF receptors can be affected in addition. Danielle has therefore worked not only on finding the venoms that most effectively halt cancer cell growth, but on finding which venoms specifically target EGF receptors without acting on other proteins from the same family.

The project has successfully identified components from a number of venoms from different animals which have highly effective and specific anti-cancer properties and this work is expected to be published before the end of the year. Danielle is also currently in the process of obtaining data on the structure of the most promising components. We look forward to this work paving the way for synthetic analogues of the most successful anti-cancer venom components to be developed as future targeted cancer treatments.