antibodies snakebite black mambaBlack mamba. Photo credit: hape662, Creative Commons License 2.0, https://flic.kr/p/qSPu2KEnvenoming, or disease caused by injection of or exposure to snake venom, kills about 100,000 people annually and permanently disfigures or disables 300,000-400,000 more. Most snakebite victims are agricultural workers and children who live in the poorest parts of Africa and India.

In low-income countries, snakebite sufferers often cannot afford snakebite treatments, known as antivenoms, even if they are available. Survivors of untreated envenoming may be left with amputation, blindness, and other forms of disability that severely affect their productivity. The snakebite problem is so acute and receives so little attention that the World Health Organization (WHO) in June 2017 added envenoming to its list of priority neglected tropical diseases.

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Global antivenom crisis

The world produces less than half of the antivenom it needs, and this covers only 57% of the world’s species of venomous snake. Barriers to treatment are driven by challenges plaguing antivenom production and use, characterized by a 19th-century technology, which continues to have high manufacturing costs and remain unaffordable and inaccessible to the poorest people who are most in need. Moreover, multi-venom treatments commonly used in Africa and India have weak, unreliable effectiveness against the venom of any single snake species and may even have harmful side effects, such as anaphylactic shock. As such, the world is in critical need of next-generation snakebite therapies (NGSTs).

The Scientific Research Partnership for Neglected Tropical Snakebite (SRPNTS)

IAVI and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have formed a research consortium, the Scientific Research Partnership for Neglected Tropical Snakebite (SRPNTS), that links partners in five countries to apply antibody discovery technologies to develop affordable, accessible, and effective monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) for NGSTs.

SRPNTS links expert institutions in snakebite and snakebite treatment with institutions specializing in antibody and recombinant protein technologies and capabilities that have grown out of HIV/AIDS research. Funded through a generous grant from the U.K. government through the Department for International Development (DFID), SRPNTS seeks to develop novel antibody-based next-generation snakebite therapies with the efficacy, safety, and affordability to reduce morbidity and mortality of venomous snakebite.

The consortium consists of:

  • IAVI (La Jolla, U.S.) led by Dr. Devin Sok, Senior Director, Antibody Discovery and Optimization
  • LSTM (Liverpool, U.K.) led by Professor Robert Harrison
  • Nigeria Snakebite Research and Intervention Centre (Bayero University, Kano) led by Professor Abdulrazaq Habib
  • Kenya Snakebite Research and Intervention Centre (Institute of Primate Research, Nairobi) led by Dr. George Oluoch
  • Indian Institute of Science (Bengaluru) led by Asst. Professor Kartik Sunagar
  • Scripps Research (La Jolla, U.S.) led by Professor Dennis Burton

Read on for more information about the technologies SRPNTS partners are using to develop NGSTs.