Stroke drug developed by Australia from spider venom could save lives

Science and Health

Venom from poisonous spiders can kill, but – incredibly – it could also save lives. A spider-venom molecule being investigated by a team from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, has met critical benchmarks towards becoming a treatment for heart attacks and strokes.

Prof. Nathan Palpant and Prof. Glenn King from the university’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience have previously shown that the drug candidate Hi1a protects cells from the damage caused by heart attack and stroke. Palpant said a subsequent study has put the drug through a series of preclinical tests designed to mimic real-life treatment scenarios.

Their study has just been published in the world’s leading cardiac journal, The European Heart Journal, under the title “Acid-sensing ion channel 1a blockade reduces myocardial injury in rodent models of myocardial infarction.” 

“These tests are a major step towards helping us understand how Hi1a would work as a therapeutic – at what stage of a heart attack it could be used and what the doses should be,” Palpant continued. 

“We established that Hi1a is as effective at protecting the heart as the only cardioprotective drug to reach Phase 3 clinical trials, a drug that was ultimately shelved due to side effects. Importantly, we found that Hi1a interacts with cells in the injured zone of the heart during an attack and doesn’t bind to healthy regions of the heart – reducing the chance of side effects.”

King, who has won prizes for developing the world’s first insecticides from spider venom, discovered Hi1a in this venom. “Hi1a could reduce damage to the heart and brain during heart attacks and strokes by preventing cell death caused by lack of oxygen,” he said.

“Our testing and safety studies from independent contract research organizations have provided evidence that Hi1a could be an effective and safe therapeutic.”


Infensa Bioscience, a company co-founded by the researchers, raised $23 million in 2022 to develop Hi1a for commercial purposes. Infensa CEO and a researcher at Queensland, Prof. Mark Smythe, said cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally. “Most deaths from cardiovascular disease are caused by heart attacks and strokes, yet there are no drugs on the market that prevent the damage they cause. An effective drug to treat heart attacks would have a worldwide impact, providing a breakthrough to improve the lives of millions of individuals living with heart disease.”