AstraZeneca has linked up with Australian biotechnology company Xenome to develop pain drugs derived from the venom of sea snails.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker’s MedImmune unit has been screening Xenome’s library of 2,000 compounds for drug candidates in the area of pain management for over a year and has now obtained exclusive licences for four peptides. Financial details have not been disclosed but but the Brisbane-based firm will be eligible to receive milestone and royalty payments.

AstraZeneca notes that the venomous sea animals on the Great Barrier Reef produce peptides to capture prey and for self-defence. Xenome has focused on peptides from cone snail venom tissue and the task now is to develop them to inhibit similar nerve pathways in humans, thus producing treatments for severe pain.

AstraZeneca’s foray into marine biotechnology fits in with the firm’s strategy of looking outside the organisation for new products. Speaking at the annual results presentation in January, chief executive David Brennan said that the future will see “more extensive collaboration with industry and academic partners, to access the best science, wherever it resides”.