Prof Peter Macdonald

Spider Venom Research Update

Update on the Institute’s Spider Venom Breakthrough

16 May 2022

First-in-human trials of a new treatment that could revolutionise heart transplants and save more lives after a heart attack are on track to start as soon as 2023.

Scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and the University of Queensland have been working around the clock to deliver on the promise of a new drug that comes from a source every Australian has been taught to fear…the venom of one of the world’s deadliest spiders, the funnel-web spider.

How could spider venom help people having a heart attack?

Damage to the heart after a heart attack is caused by a lack of oxygen and also a build-up of lactic acid. The lactic acid build-up triggers a suicide message that causes additional heart cells to die, which markedly and irreversibly increases the amount of tissue damaged. Professor Peter Macdonald and Professor Bob Graham at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute have been collaborating with Professor Glenn King and A/Prof Nathan Palpant at the University of Queensland to develop a drug derived from a protein in the spider venom called Hi1a. It works by blocking the acid-sensing ion channels in the heart that are activated by the build-up of lactic acid after a heart attack, so the death message is blocked and the progressive expansion of tissue damage is averted.

It is hoped the new drug could be administered to heart attack victims by first responders to prevent long-term damage to the heart. This would be a massive breakthrough as at present there are no drugs available to protect heart muscle cells from damage after a heart attack.

The new therapy could also revolutionise heart transplant surgery. By stopping the death signal in the heart cells, the donor hearts will remain ‘healthy’ for longer.

“This could increase the number of hearts available for transplant by 30%. For people who are literally on death’s door, this could be life-changing,” says Professor Macdonald

The development of this new therapy has the potential to save thousands of lives all over the world.

The next steps – human trials of Hi1a to begin in 2023

The drug has already been tested on beating heart cells and is already showing promise in early preclinical studies that are currently underway.

It is anticipated, therefore that first-in-human safety trials of Hi1a could start as early as 2023.

This phase one clinical trial will test the dosage range and identify any side effects on a small group of people before moving on to larger clinical trials.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation, on which we meet, work, and discover.
Our Western Australian laboratories pay their respect to the Whadjuk Noongar who remain as the ongoing spiritual and cultural custodians of their land.