Can spider venom treat erectile dysfunction? Clinical trials are underway.

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published September 29, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • In the future, erectile dysfunction could be treated with spider venom.

  • If found to be safe and effective, the treatment will be applied as a topical gel and will work by increasing blood flow in the penis.

Unless you're Peter Parker, a spider bite won’t turn you into a superhero—but it could help you last longer during sex. Scientists have derived a potential erectile dysfunction treatment from spider venom, now approved for clinical trials.

The treatment is a topical gel that contains venom from the banana spider, one of the largest spiders found in South America. Scientifically known as the Phoneutria nigriventer (P. nigriventer), this venom can be toxic—and severe and undesirable symptoms can follow a P. nigriventer bite. These symptoms include severe pain, edema, erythema, sudoresis, paresthesia, muscle fasciculation localized at the bite site, and/or systemic symptoms, including tachycardia, hypertension, agitation, vomiting, and sialorrhea. P. nigriventer bites can also cause death.[]

Due to its complex composition, however, this venom can also induce other effects—some of which, when isolated, may be desirable. Among these is penile erection.[]

Researching spider venom and erections

Researcher Kenia Pedrosa Nunes has been studying banana spider venom’s boner-boosting properties for over a decade. Nunes authored several research studies on the substance’s impact on erectile dysfunction, including in animal studies. In some of her earlier research, Nunes noted that the venom could release nitric oxide (NO), which aids in forming an erection. Some already-available treatments work by increasing the body’s ability to produce NO, as it can relax the penis and allow for more blood flow, supporting an erection. Impaired NO production can cause erectile dysfunction.[][][]

Clinical trials are underway for spider venom treatment

Current and upcoming clinical trials use the venom in a synthetic molecule called BZ371A, formulated as a topical gel. The trials will test BZ371A's safety and efficacy in restoring erectile function for patients who underwent Radical Prostatectomy (RP), a surgery to remove the prostate after a prostate cancer diagnosis. RP can be a lifesaving intervention that can also lead to erectile dysfunction.[]

So far, researchers note that BZ371A is not toxic to humans and that it “has the ability to restore local blood flow regulation by a new and innovative mechanism of action and, therefore, has potential to be a supportive therapy for RP patients (restoring the erectile function).”[]

Depending on how the trials play out, BZ371A might also be a promising alternative treatment for patients who cannot use currently available oral erectile dysfunction treatments like Viagra and Cialis, which may pose risks for people with hypertension or severe diabetes. In phase 1 trials, BZ371A was also tested for safety in people with vaginas, as researchers noted that they could come in contact with the gel if having intercourse with a partner with a penis. In this phase, safety was confirmed.[][]

Paulo Lacativa, MD, CEO of BioZeus, the Brazil-based company developing the drug, said in a press release that there is a lack of proper effective treatment for female sexual arousal disorder. He suggests that BZ371A’s effectiveness could be tested on more populations.[]

“Increase in local blood flow and vascularization was already proved in previous studies and may be an opportunity to be explored by BioZeus in the near future,” he said.[]

What this means for you

Researchers are studying a new potential treatment for erectile dysfunction derived from spider venom. If found to be safe and effective, the treatment will be applied as a topical gel and will work by increasing blood flow in the penis. Clinical trials are currently underway.

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