Japanese drugmaker Eisai has rolled out Prialt in the UK, offering a new hope to patients suffering from severe chronic pain who have failed to respond or are intolerant to previous therapies.

Prialt (ziconotide) is a synthetic copy of a naturally occurring peptide present in the venom of a sea snail found near the Philippines, and is administered via an infusion pump directly into the spinal fluid around the spinal cord.

The sea snail’s venom paralyses its prey, and research suggests that, in humans, the agent blocks the N-type calcium channels on nerves that transmit pain signals, preventing them from travelling between nerve cells and thereby effectively blocking pain.

To date, the last stop for patients with severe chronic pain was an opioid analgesic such as morphine, but the introduction of Prialt gives the one in seven patients in the UK suffering from this debilitating condition a novel treatment approach.

“The impact of persistent pain on daily living is almost unimaginable to most people, and when it does not respond to first line treatment it is often devastating for the patients and their carers,” said Dr Karen Simpson, Consultant in pain management at Leeds University Hospitals. “Prialt is allowing me to treat some patients for whom I had previously run out of options.”

Eisai bought worldwide rights (excluding the USA) to Prialt from Irish drugmaker Elan earlier this year, and plans to carry out market introductions in other European countries in the near future.