The Papuan taipan is arguably the deadliest snake in the world, but not only because of the intensity of its venom. The creature kills humans at such an alarming rate primarily because the antidote to its bite is too expensive for most Papuan medical facilities to afford. That unfortunate fact could soon change, though, thanks to research out of Costa Rica’s Instituto Clodomiro Picado, which is developing an affordable taipan antivenom called TaipanOx-ICP. This fascinating interview about the medication’s upcoming clinical trials sheds light on why creating antivenoms is such a labor-intensive exercise:
Anti-venoms are made by immunising a horse with selected snake venoms, so that the horse makes antibodies and these antibodies are extracted from the horse’s plasma and refined so that they’re fit to be given by the intravenous route to human snakebite victims. And the Costa Ricans, as I say, have found a much simpler, less expensive, but no less safe and no less effective method.
If anyone can point me toward a readable history of antivenom development, I’d be much obliged. I’d be interested to know how horses were settled upon as the ideal animals for antibody production. Were other animals tried out first, with disappointing results?