Venom power: Scientists receive funding to develop novel drug for multiple sclerosis

Research into a modified toxin from the venom of a scorpion has led a team of Monash University scientists a step closer to preclinical trials of a new drug candidate for multiple sclerosis (MS).

The team, led by Professor Ray Norton from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), has received an MS Research Australia 2020 Incubator Grant Award to accelerate their research into an inhibitor of effector memory T cells (a type of white blood cell), which cause neuroinflammation and tissue damage in MS.


The candidate therapeutic, called HsTX1[R14A], does this by blocking a specific ‘potassium channel’ found on activated T cells. This compound represents a potentially new class of treatment for MS. HsTX1[R14A] is a modified toxin derived from the venom of the scorpion, Heterometrus spinnifer – a species of scorpion found in Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Professor Norton says: “With the support of MS Research Australia, our team at MIPS is working to turn this toxin into a safe medicine for one of the world’s most debilitating diseases.”

“So far we’ve demonstrated that this molecule is effective in laboratory models relevant to MS and, if successful, this grant will pave the way for preclinical trials of a newly developed drug candidate for MS.”

“In this project I’ll work closely with Associate Professor Natalie Trevakis, who is an expert in drug modification to improve the peptide’s lifetime in the body. We’re working together to modify the peptide (by adding various lipids) and determine whether these modified versions have improved accumulation and persistence in the blood, the lymph nodes and the brain in laboratory models.”

Other peptides with a similar mechanism of action, including one derived from a sea anemone, have been shown recently to be safe and effective in humans with another autoimmune disease, plaque psoriasis.

Dr Julia Morahan, Head of Research at MS Research Australia says, “We are delighted to provide funding to Professor Norton’s important novel idea looking at exploring new MS treatment candidate. It is our great hope that innovative treatment strategies such as this ultimately translate to improving the lives of people living with MS and this research, if successful, could pave the way for preclinical trials of a newly developed drug using the venom of a scorpion. We are looking forward to seeing the results of this research”

MS Research Australia is the largest Australian not-for-profit organisation dedicated to funding, coordinating, educating and advocating for MS research as part of the worldwide effort to solve MS.

There are 25,600 Australians living with MS, making it the most common acquired chronic neurological disease affecting adults, often diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 and, in Australia, affects three times more women than men. As yet, there is no cure.

Ph: + / E:

Contact: Kate Carthew

Phone: 0438 674 814