FREMONT, CA – In many parts of the world, snake bites claim thousands of lives each year. However, access to antivenom is significantly limited, and in some cases, non-existent. Almost 138,000 people lose their lives to snake bites each year due to unavailability of immediate treatment. Unlike most crises, snakebites have failed to grasp the attention of governments as well as the public.
It was as recently as May 2018 when the World Health Organization (WHO) took notice of the magnitude of the problem and declared snake bites as a global health priority. According to a senior researcher at the Center of Snakebite Research and Interventions (CSRI), most snakebite victims reside in rural tropics of sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. The lack of political voice in the regions has caused government agencies to neglect the seriousness of the crisis.
The sad truth lies in the fact that most snake bites can be rendered ineffective by providing timely treatment to the victims. The negligence by authorities can be considered more of a cause to these deaths, rather than the snakebites themselves. For instance, many countries with snakes of similar toxicity have distinct snakebite mortality rates based on the availability and access to antivenoms.
One of the biggest challenges in the treatment of snakebites is the difference in the toxicity and composition of venoms. As a result, the treatment needs to be tailored to each patient according to the species and kinds of snakes. Each variety of antivenom can only be used against one type or a small group of snakes native to a particular region.
The approach utilized in the manufacturing of antivenoms can be considered archaic. In the process, the snake is milked for its venom, and a tiny amount of the toxin is injected into an animal to activate the response of its immune system. The antibodies generated by the animal are extracted from its blood and purified, before turning it into antivenom.
Antivenoms comprise of polyclonal antibodies produced by animals which have immunized by injecting them with small amount of venom over a period of time. The outdated process is expensive, not only to manufacture, but also to supply to the patients. Hence, there is an imperative need for innovation in this sector as the antivenoms are effective only if the victims are treated immediately after the bite.