21 February 2005

A venom component from the Taipan, the world’s deadliest snake, is being developed by Brisbane biotechnology company ElaCor, as a new drug to treat heart failure.

Current treatments for congestive heart failure (CHF), an often-fatal disease in which the heart is weakened and lacks the strength to adequately pump blood around the body, have serious side effects and do not combat the progression of the disease.

Over 3,000 Australians die as a result of CHF each year with a further 300,000 people affected by the disease.

The project’s principal researcher, University of Queensland’s (UQ) Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s (IMB) Professor Paul Alewood, said a unique set of active molecules had been isolated from taipan venom.

“Initial tests indicate these molecules are extremely effective at easing the heart’s workload,” he said

“In addition to being very effective these molecules are also extremely stable in the body with the therapeutic effect lasting long after administration, two extremely attractive features for new drugs.

“Ironically, the human body naturally produces similar types of molecules in response to heart failure but these breakdown too quickly to have a lasting effect making them inappropriate as a long term treatment,” he said.

ElaCor was recently awarded an $80,000 Innovation Start Up Scheme grant by the Queensland Government to assist in establishing viable business processes.

Established by IMBcom, the commercialisation company for UQ’s IMB, in collaboration with the Baker Heart Research Institute (BHRI), ElaCor is the result of an extensive research collaboration between Professor Alewood and between BHRI`s Associate Professor Geoffrey Head.

IMBcom CEO Dr Peter Isdale was extremely pleased with the success of ElaCor in this latest round of funding and was gratified the Queensland Government continued to demonstrate its faith in Queensland science by supporting the science of today for the business of tomorrow.

Media: For more information contact Elacor’s Principal Researcher Professor Paul Alewood (telephone 07 3346 2982) or IMBcom CEO and Director of ElaCor Dr Peter Isdale (telephone 07 3346 2180).

Fast Facts

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
Congestive Heart Failure is currently responsible for at least 3,000 deaths per year in Australia. In America, nearly 5 million people are living with heart failure, and 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. This looks set to increase to epidemic proportions due to the aging of populations in developed countries and the manifestation of the detrimental effects of our sedentary lifestyle.

The term "heart failure" refers to the heart not pumping as well as it should be. Usually the heart has been weakened over time by an underlying problem, such as clogged arteries, high blood pressure, a defect in its muscular walls or valves, or some other medical condition.

The human body depends on the heart`s pumping action to deliver oxygen - and nutrient-rich blood. That supplies all the body`s cells with nourishment so the body can function normally. In people with heart failure, the body doesn`t get enough blood. As a result, they tend to feel weak, fatigued or short of breath. Everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs, carrying groceries and doing yard work can become quite difficult.
More info: www.heartfoundation.com.au

The Taipan
Taipans are, at least in theory, amongst the most deadly snakes in the world, combining very potent venom, large amounts of venom and long fangs with an accurate strike. The common taipan may exceed 2.5m in length and is found in mixed habitats in North Queensland and the Northern Territory. The common taipan may have fangs >1cm in length, capable of penetrating a leather boot! This, coupled with the large quantity of venom produced, has helped fuel the fearsome reputation of these snakes.

In a single strike, a taipan can inject 60mg of venom - enough to quickly paralyse a small marsupial but also more than enough to wipe out several human adults.

Taipan venom is overwhelmingly neurotoxic, including pre and post-synaptic neurotoxins, as well as powerful procoagulants and myolysins.