J&J backs potential pain drugs derived from spider venom

One industry watcher called it "SpideRx." Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has struck a deal with Australia's Queensland University to research spider venom peptides as remedies for chronic pain--a multibillion dollar headache for healthcare systems and a blockbuster market for drugmakers.

The yearlong project involves scientists from Queensland, J&J's Corporate Office of Science and Technology and members of the Big Pharma's Janssen unit, according to Queensland's release. And the groups plan to dig deeper into whether peptides from spider toxins could be developed into inhibitors of ion channel pathways involved in continuous pain. Queensland didn't reveal financial details of the pact.

Drugmakers have been hungry to advance non-addictive treatments for chronic pain, as well as therapies that can hit the molecular drivers of pain without needlessly numbing other tissues. For many years researchers have probed the animal kingdom for painkillers and drugs for other diseases such as cancer and diabetes with some wins. Take Elan's sea snail-derived pain blocker Prialt and Amylin's ($AMLN) diabetes drug Byetta, which is a synthetic version of a substance found in a venomous lizard called the Gila monster. Arachnids might hold a future anti-pain drug for New Brunswick, NJ-based J&J.

"Discoveries like this pass through many developmental stages before they become market-ready therapeutic products, so combining the resources and expertise of Australian researchers and [J&J] means potential pain drug candidates for clinical trials are likely to be identified much sooner," David Henderson, managing director of Queensland's commercialization group UniQuest, said in a statement.

The potential payday, of course, could be huge if the work yields a marketed drug. There are about 1.5 billion sufferers of chronic pain globally and costs stemming from chronic aches are more than $500 billion annually in the U.S., according to the release.

- here's the release
- check out Bloomberg's article