By Nils Pratley (Daily Telegraph 2nd December 1997)
Pink spider offers painless profit
THE drugs group Zeneca revealed yesterday
that it has patented the venom of the pink Chilean
tarantula and plans to use it to develop a painkiller
that could replace morphine.
In the wild, pink Chilean tarantulas kill prey such as
toads, frogs and mice painlessly. Zeneca hopes the
venom's unusual quality could lead to a new class of
drug. A Zeneca spokesman said: "You wouldn't be
pumping people full of raw tarantula venom. What you
would do is produce a synthetic version. It would be used
in cases where people are in severe pain with cancer or
The spokesman was unable to give full details of the
spider: "It's hairy with a pink tinge and makes your
flesh creep just to look at it." But he said the
venom's potential new use was discovered accidentally.
"We were seeing whether it worked in the
cardio-vascular area and someone decided to try it out in
a pain model," he said.
The new drug has yet to enter clinical trials but is not
thought to be addictive. "The idea is that if we can
get this through to market, it would replace
morphine," the company said. The work on tarantula
venom was revealed as part of Zeneca's first reseach and
development update for two years, which it used to
counter arguments that its pipeline of new drugs is too
weak to sustain the current level of growth. Zeneca said
it has 26 new compounds in development. Tom McKillop,
chief executive of the pharmaceuticals division, argued
that drug sales could be doubled over the next few years.
"There is plenty of fuel in the tank to drive us
through 2001 and well into the next century," he
His confidence pushed the shares, which fell as low as
£17.17 last month, up 60 to £19.50; a peak of £22.65
was achieved in July.
Zeneca has only one new drug in the third and final stage
of development - Faslodex, for breast cancer. But Mr
McKillop argued that extensions to other products, such
as the heart drug Zestril, would help to generate