IIT-D develops cheaper snakebite treatment

A team of researchers from IIT-Delhi has come up with an anti-venom, that effectively neutralises the poison from several snakebites.

The research done in association with San Jose University of US, created an artificially deigned peptide, which successfully neutralises poison from several snakes, including, the Indian cobra, common krait, Russell’s viper and the saw-scaled viper.

In India, 2.8 million people are bitten by snakes and nearly 46,900 die of snakebite, every year. That said, the current serum used to combat snakebites is derived from horses, immunised with snake venom and costs around Rs 500 per vial. However, the new anti-venom costs only $1 (almost Rs 70) per dose.

Professor Anurag Rathore from the Department of Chemical Engineering in IIT Delhi said, “This is a polyvalent anti-venom, which will be effective against a bunch of snake bites, unlike the ones currently available that are effective against only the big four. We have already shown its efficacy in two of the four snakes in mice model and the other two are underway,”

The polyvalency of the single molecule lowers reactions to other venoms present in the serum. “If the single molecule negates the effect of multiple venoms, it is a very important discovery. The serums in the market contain traces of all four venoms and carry the inherent possibility of reaction to venoms other than the one against which it is needed,” said Dr YK Gupta, former head of the department of pharmacology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which also runs the National Poison Centre.

The advantages of this peptide based treatment includes, removal of an allergy risk horse serum brought into the picture, and enhanced stability with regards to storage and transportation.

“Serums are not very heat-stable and need to be stored in the correct cold-chain conditions for them to work. This makes transport and storage a problem in semi-urban and rural areas, where most of the snake bites occur,” said Rathore.

However, maintenance of cold storage is also equally expensive, “The peptide-based treatment will most likely be in a powdered form, which is more stable than the serum and does not need cold storage. It can be mixed with saline at the point of administration. This, coupled with the method of production using DNA modified E coli bacteria, will result in the final product costing just one-tenth of the current anti-venoms,” Rathore continued.

The only downer to this treatment is its short shelf-life, “The availability of anti-venoms at the village or primary healthcare centre level is a problem because, at best, serums have a shelf life of eight months, leading to wastage. There are, of course, lyfolised antivenoms that have a shelf life of two to three years, but they are more expensive,” said Dr Gupta.

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