KEY POINTS

  • The molecule could connect with an enzyme found in COVID-19 
  • Researchers have tested the venom in monkey cells
  • Scientists have warned people against capturing snakes for their venom

Researchers in Brazil may have found a component in the venom of a specific type of snake that could help block a COVID-19 infection.

In a study published in the scientific journal Molecules this month, the researchers said they found a molecule called peptide in the venom of the jararacussu pit viper that could prevent the COVID-19 virus from multiplying.

According to the researchers, peptide can connect to an enzyme found in the coronavirus called PLPro. The enzyme is a vital part to the virus’ reproduction. When tested in monkey cells, the researchers found that the viper’s peptide inhibited the virus’ ability to multiply by at least 75%.

"We were able to show this component of snake venom was able to inhibit a very important protein from the virus," Rafael Guido, a University of Sao Paulo professor and an author of the study, told Reuters

Following the findings, the scientists warned people against capturing or raising the snakes, noting that it’s the molecule, not the venom itself that can cure the virus. He also added that the molecule could be synthesized in a laboratory. 

"We're wary about people going out to hunt the jararacussu around Brazil, thinking they're going to save the world ... That's not it!” Giuseppe Puorto, a herpetologist running the Butantan Institute’s biological collection in Sao Paulo, told the publication. 

The researchers are now evaluating how effective the molecule is against COVID-19 when given in different doses. They are also hoping to test their findings in human cells, but have yet to give a specific timeline. 

The finding comes nearly two weeks after researchers from the VIB-Ugent Center for Medical Biotechnology in Ghent, Belgium, found that antibodies in llamas could potentially block COVID-19 infections caused by variants with increased transmissibility.

"Their small size … allows them to reach targets, reach parts of the virus that are difficult to access with conventional antibodies," VIB-UGent group leader Xavier Saelens said.

The researchers have launched clinical trials to see whether the antibodies could block the virus from infecting the cells of healthy and hospitalized patients. If the clinical trials prove to be a success, it could be a “game-changer” for immunocompromised and hospitalized people. 

Japan has suspended the use of some batches of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine because a contamination was spotted Japan has suspended the use of some batches of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine because a contamination was spotted Photo: AFP / Behrouz MEHRI