In Egypt the “Scorpion King” transforms poison into money

Time.news – Surrounded by thousands of live scorpions in a laboratory in the western desert of Egypt, Ahmed Abu al-Seoud gently strokes one of his curved tailed arachnids before extracting a drop of its poison. A mechanical engineer who has worked in the oil industry for nearly two decades, Abu al-Seoud decided in 2018 to take a different path, producing scorpion venom for pharmaceutical research.

“I was surfing the Internet and saw that scorpion venom was one of the most expensive on the market,” said the 44-year-old, walking around his lab in a white coat. “So I thought to myself: why not take advantage of this desert environment in which they roam?”.

Biomedical researchers are studying the pharmaceutical properties of scorpion venom, making the rare and potent neurotoxin a highly sought-after product now available in several Middle Eastern countries.

“Dozens of scorpion-derived bioactive molecules have been shown to have promising pharmacological properties,” a research published last May in the journal Biomedicines pointed out. Laboratories are now studying i its potential antimicrobial, immunosuppressive and anti-cancer effects, among others, hoping to use or synthesize them someday for drugs.

Abu al-Seoud comes from the Dakhla oasis, located in the vast Egyptian province of the New Valley and about 800 kilometers southwest of Cairo.

Sand dunes and towering palm trees surround his workshop, which he affectionately calls the ‘Kingdom of the Scorpion’. “Here, every family has a story about a scorpion sting,” said Abu al-Seoud. To induce them to secrete poison under controlled laboratory conditions, the scorpions are given a mild electric shock. Then wait 20-30 days between draws to get the highest quality poison. “What matters is the level of purity,” explains Abu al-Seoud, adding that to get one gram you need the venom of 3,000-3,500 scorpions.

Once extracted, the liquid is refrigerated and transported to Cairo, where it is dried and packaged for sale in powder form.

The laboratory “is certified (by the government) and has the ability to export this unique product,” said 25-year-old Nahla Abdel-Hameed, a pharmacist working in the center.

Abdel-Hameed referred to some scientific studies that explored the healing benefits of poison in curing certain diseases. Mohey Hafez, a member of the pharmaceutical chamber at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, was more cautious in his assessment of its current uses. “The venoms of scorpions and snakes can be used to make antisera,” he explained to AFP. “There is no ready-made drug that depends entirely on poison as a direct ingredient, but there have been promising research into its uses“.

The province of New Valley boasts five different species of scorpions, including the very poisonous Leiurus quinquestriatus, whose poison can sell for up to $ 7,500 per gram, according to Abu al-Seoud. While the former engineer captures ‘his’ creatures, he gets help in the risky hunt from the residents of nearby villages, which he equips with gloves, tweezers, boots, UV lights and anti-poison serum. Scorpion hunters earn between 1 and 1.5 Egyptian pounds (about 6 to 10 cents) per animal caught.

Abu al-Seoud’s future goal is to breed scorpions rather than catch them. About 20,000 animals have been collected so far, according to business partner Alaa Sabaa, while the lab has a maximum capacity of 80,000. The self-funded project so far has cost about five million Egyptian pounds ($ 320,000) and has also attracted government support. (Time.news)

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