Is Tick Saliva An answer to Itching?

Is Tick Saliva An answer to Itching?

Itching is something that always irritates people and a lot of research has gone into easing this. Well, is it possible to calm down itching and is it really possible to stop itching? A group of researchers from the Durham and Newcastle Universities have come up with a protein found in tick saliva that could be turned into a drug that eases itching.

Frontiers in Pharmacology journal published the findings. The researchers said that the protein called Votucalis brought relief to pain and itch in studies involving mice. The researchers had collaborated with pharmaceutical company Akari Therapeutics Plc for the study.


Votucalis is got from the saliva of ticks and here the researchers experimented with brown ear tick Rhipicephalus appendiculatus They secreted the protein into their host when feeding so the host is unaware that they have been bitten.

Votucalis is a biologic drug that works by binding histamine, produced in the body, with high-affinity and thereby prevents histamine activating its four cell surface receptors resulting in reduced itch or chronic pain responses. Conditions that cause chronic pain or itching include atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, arthritis, diabetes, sciatica back injuries.

Study co-author Dr Paul Chazot, in the Department of Biosciences, Durham University, UK, said: “Persistent or chronic pain is a huge global health challenge, which affects over 20 per cent of the population. It is the single biggest reason that people in the UK visit their doctor and it is recognised as a priority disease by the World Health Organisation.”

Further Chazot explained; “The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended that current opioid and gabapentinoid pain medications should not be prescribed to patients newly diagnosed with chronic pain, apart from cancer sufferers so there is an urgent need to develop a new long-lasting medication that is both effective and safe to use.”


Unlike opioids – which are morphine-based – the research shows that Votucalis does not enter the brain, which means it is not addictive and less likely to cause side-effects. It can be manufactured in large amounts using recombinant methods.

Study co-author Dr Ilona Obara said “these are conditions that bring a huge amount of misery, and current medication displays limited efficacy, and can also often be detrimental to patients. 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.” Obara began the research with Dr Chazot while at Durham and continued the work after moving to the School of Pharmacy, Newcastle University, UK.

Akari Therapeutics Plc (UK) Chief Executive Officer Clive Richardson said: “We are delighted to be working with Drs Chazot and Obara on the pipeline drug Votucalis. The exciting new data in pain and itch supports the potential that the unique mode of action of Votucalis, inhibiting all four histamine receptors, opens exciting therapeutic opportunities in pain management and dermatology.”

The research is funded by a PhD scholarship from the Saudi Arabian government, and partially funded by Akari Therapeutics Plc and the Medical Research Council Confidence in Concept scheme.



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