Deadly fish toxin inspires treatment for nerve condition

Drug bypasses brain, works directly on peripheral nerves


HOUSTON – Thirty percent of all Americans will be affected by peripheral neuropathy, a condition that impacts nerves leading to the arms and legs.

In many cases, doctors prescribe medicines to help manage the pain, burning and tingling. Now, researchers are testing a new nonaddictive treatment inspired from a deadly fish toxin.

Joseph Malkevitch has been battling the medical condition that is highly unpredictable.

“I noticed it in the form of tingling in my feet and toes, and initially it went away, and so I just tossed it aside as a glitch," he said.

Malkevitch's doctors diagnosed him with peripheral neuropathy. It involves damage to the nerves in the peripheral system, which lead from the brain to the extremities. But they could not determine a cause.

Professor of neurology Dr. David Simpson said that’s not uncommon.

“In upwards of 30 percent of patients with peripheral neuropathy, one can’t identify a cause," Simpson said.

Now, researchers are testing a drug to treat neuropathy pain. Right now it’s known only as CC8464. Inspired by the toxin found in the Japanese pufferfish, the drug copies how the fish toxins disrupt signals to the body.

"“How it works in the body is by targeting those peripheral nerve fibers and not penetrating the brain,” Dr. Heikki Mansikka, with drug developer Chromocell, said.

Researchers said since the drug bypasses the brain and works directly on the peripheral nerves, it may not be addictive.

While Malkevitch chooses to manage his neuropathy without medication, he said he knows others with the condition may be searching for serious pain relief.

The FDA granted the drug “fast-track” status based on need. It is currently in phase one of clinical trials.