Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Taipan Be Not Proud

October 26th, 2011 · 2 Comments


Nearly two years ago, I posted about the exorbitant prices of anti-venom, which seem largely due to the reluctance of pharmaceutical manufacturers to service such a relatively small market. The end result of those companies’ economic sensibility is a dearth of medication in Papua New Guinea, where snake bites are a serious public-health problem:

In Central Province (which surrounds the national capital, Port Moresby), the incidence averages 215.5 victims per 100,000 people, but in some sub-provinces, such as Kairuku (which includes Yule Island and the villages of Bereina and Veifa’a) localized incidence exceeds 1,300 victims per 100,000 – among the highest rates of snake bite in the world. Each year in Central Province an average of 7.9 victims per 100,000 die as a result of snakebites, and this figure may in fact be far higher – many victims die before they can reach Aid Posts and Rural Health Centres, and these deaths rarely register in official statistics.

The good folks over at the Australian Venom Research Unit have been working on this problem for over a decade now. Their goal is to design an anti-venom that can be produced locally in Papua New Guinea, for a price (around $100 per dose) that is not totally prohibitive. They’re finally getting somewhat close to making that happen, having finally received a sizable grant to conduct a clinical trial. If thing pan out like we’d all hope, the new, cut-rate anti-venom will be the first drug of its kind to emerge in fifty years.

The awesome secret to the discount formula? Horse plasma.

More of Microkhan’s surprisingly extensive anti-venom coverage here.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    Definitely trickier to make a good anti-venom when the venom contains multiple toxic compounds. If there was just one compound, you could potentially figure out the sequence of the IgG and grow the Fab fragments in bacteria, which would be a lot faster and cheaper, but a whole suite would be another matter entirely.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: Hmm, that’s interesting. So do most snakes have venom with multiple toxic compounds?

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