Brazilian researchers have discovered that a molecule in the venom of a type of snake inhibits the reproduction of the coronavirus in monkey cells, a possible first step towards a drug to fight the virus that causes COVID-19.
A study published in the scientific journal Molecules this month found that the molecule produced by the jararacussu viper inhibits the virus’s ability to multiply in monkey cells by 75%.
“We were able to show that this component of the snake venom was capable of inhibiting a very important protein of the virus,” said Rafael Guido, professor at the University of Sao Paulo and author of the study.
The molecule is a peptide, or chain of amino acids, that can connect to a coronavirus enzyme called PLPro, which is vital for the virus to reproduce, without damaging other cells.
Already known for its antibacterial qualities, the peptide can be synthesized in the laboratory, Guido said in an interview, making the capture or rearing of snakes unnecessary.
“We are worried that people will go out to hunt jararacussu in Brazil, thinking that they are going to save the world … It’s not that!” said Giuseppe Puorto, a herpetologist who directs the biological collection of the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo. “It is not the poison itself that will cure the coronavirus.”
Next, the researchers will evaluate the efficiency of different doses of the molecule and whether it is capable of preventing the virus from entering cells in the first place, according to a statement from the State University of Sao Paulo (Unesp), which also participated in the investigate.
They hope to test the substance in human cells but did not give a deadline.
The jararacussu is one of the largest snakes in Brazil, measuring up to 6 feet (2 meters) long. It lives in the coastal Atlantic Forest and is also found in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.