Kochi / Mumbai: The reclusive Gila monster, a species of venomous lizard found in the US and Mexico, acquired a less fearsome connotation after US biotech firm Eli Lilly and Co. developed the world’s first non-insulin drug, Byetta, to treat diabetes using an extract from the reptile’s saliva.
Indian researchers are working on their own version of the Gila—the common frog.
Utility: Biocoloured Rana curtipes (biological name) species was used for most of the study
The Thiruvananthapuram-based Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) has developed a potential anti-microbial agent using skin secretions of a species of frog found in the Western Ghats to tackle one of the most serious concerns of the medical world— drug-resistant infections.
“It’s a big leap in the area of antibiotics as the potential peptides, or chains of proteins from the frog’s skin secretions, have been isolated now, and studies are on to purify them and see how they act on human cells,” said Sanil George, a senior scientist at the department of molecular medicine and cancer biology at RGCB.
“We have already isolated 23 most potential peptides. We hope to successfully complete our study in a year,” said K. Santosh Kumar, another lead scientist in the project team.
Various types of bacterial infections are increasingly developing resistance to conventional antibiotics, pushing drug researchers to develop new classes of antibiotics. The scientists said skin glands of frogs and toads are regarded as natural pharmaceutical sources as they are rich with active peptides, which allow the creation of antibodies.
“These compounds help create a barrier against microbial infection. They get activated against a host of micro-organisms,” said Kumar.
The scientists began a study on the potential of frog skin secretions more than a year ago, supported by the Union government’s department of biotechnology and the Kerala State Committee for Science, Technology and Environment. The frogs are released after their skin secretions are extracted.
Similar studies have been undertaken in the temperate regions of the US and Europe, but it’s the first in India, said George.
The intellectual property right for any drug resulting from it would be associated with the geographical indication (for example: frog species found in the Western Ghats).
“Given the growing use of antibiotic drugs, many of which have developed human resistance, the study will look at how effectively these natural peptides can address the unmet medical needs,” said George. These peptides selectively kill micro-organisms and are unlikely to induce resistance in pathogens. “Skins of different frog species are storehouses for a variety of pharmacological active molecules. This study has the potential to make headway in the development of niche antibiotics,” said Kumar.