Spider venom drug could be more effective than Viagra, researchers say

Brazilian scientists have refined potent toxin to a safe gel which can be applied topically

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Saturday 02 March 2019 15:25
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National Geographic profile of the Brazilian Walking Spider

The bite of a deadly spider which causes victims to experience a four hour erection before they die could one day help millions of men overcome erectile dysfunction, according to researchers.

Scientists studying Brazilian wandering spiders – sometimes known as banana spiders – believe that chemicals in its bite could lead to a treatment more effective than Viagra.

They have refined the toxins and included them into a gel which in early trials led to prolonged erections but, crucially, without the unhappy ending.

The team from the Federal University of Minas Gerais made a synthetic form of the toxin in order to test its effects and “overcome the high toxicity” of the spider’s venom.

In tests in mice and rats with erectile dysfunction it found that it led to a swelling of the penis “lasting about 60 minutes” when applied topically to the genitals.

There were no signs of discomfort or harm and the drug had effects over and above sildenafil (Viagra) when they were given in combination, suggesting it could work for men where other drugs have failed.

Writing in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the authors said the compound PnPP-19 could become “a promising alternative for erectile dysfunction treatment”.

Brazilian wandering spiders have in the past made sensationalist headlines in the UK after being discovered among bananas, but many of the species are not poisonous to humans and mainly hunt small rodents.

Professor Maria Elena de Lima, who led the study, told The Sun: “We believe it could fill an enormous gap in the market and help millions of people worldwide.”

A trial of another of the chemicals last year in healthy male and female subjects found a topical application of the gel to the genitals led to erections in men within 30 minutes and doubled blood flow to the organ compared to a placebo.

There were no other symptoms like painful prolonged erections, known as priapism, headache or high blood pressure and the researchers said the drug has the “potential to be a safe and efficacious option for erectile dysfunction patients”.

The drug works by boosting production of nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels that supply the penis, causing it to swell with blood.

This is the same mechanism as Viagra – originally developed while looking for a heart disease treatment – but in a topical treatment rather than a pill.

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