Tick saliva protein (Votucalis) could be developed into chronic pain drug

arthritis, treatment, drug, pain, tick, Votucalis, arthritis digest A protein found in tick saliva may soon be turned into a drug that eases both chronic pain and chronic itching. It is hoped that the protein – called Votucalis – could lead to a replacement for traditional painkillers, for example opioids, that can be ineffective, have serious side-effects and are addictive.

Votucalis is derived from the saliva of ticks who secrete the protein into their host when feeding so the host is unaware that they have been bitten. It prevents histamine in the body from activating its cell surface receptors, which means less chronic pain responses and reduced itch. Conditions that cause chronic pain or itching include arthritis, psoriasis, sciatica, back injuries and atopic dermatitis.

“Persistent or chronic pain is a huge global health challenge, which affects over 20% of the population,” says study co-author Dr Paul Chazot. “It is the single biggest reason that people in the UK visit their doctor.

“There is an urgent need to develop a new, long-lasting medication that is both effective and safe to use. Our study is the first to show evidence of the anti-itch and pain relief potential of Votucalis, which is very exciting. We could be on the brink of discovering a viable alternative to opioid drugs.”

Unlike opioids – which are morphine-based – Votucalis does not enter the brain, which means it is not addictive and less likely to cause side-effects. “It is amazing that a protein found in the saliva of this tiny creature could prevent chronic pain and itching in people,” highlights Dr Ilona Obara, who works on the project.

“Votucalis has already been tested in humans with other conditions, including conjunctivitis, without major side-effects, so the potential for this to be developed into a drug to tackle chronic pain and itching is definitely there.”

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