By MALUM NALU
Monday, March 25, 2013
Several years of hard work for a small group of Papua New Guinean researchers, led by an Australian scientist, may soon result in development of a new treatment for one of PNG’s most neglected public health problems.
Clinical trials of a new Papuan Taipan snake anti-venom will start in May, 2013, and it is hoped this anti-venom will save hundreds of lives every year.
Williams and Prof Worrell at the clinical trial office at the Port Moresby General Hospital.-Nationalpic by MALUM NALU
PNG has some of the highest snakebite rates in the world and in some parts of Central, the mortality rate is several times higher than malaria, tuberculosis and pneumonia, largely because of a lack of interest in the problem.
This has made access to safe, effective treatment scarce and unaffordable.
The high cost of imported Australian anti-venoms has made it increasingly difficult for the PNG government to meet the demand, and has contributed to the existence of a black market in these products, which often sees them stolen from hospitals and sold illegally for up to US$3,200.
In 2011, researchers from the University of PNG collaborating with scientists from the University of Costa Rica and the University of Melbourne’s Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU) and Nossal Institute for Global Health, announced the successful pre-clinic testing of a new, low-cost Papuan Taipan anti-venom, that not only offers a sustainable solution to the problem, but provides the opportunities for PNG to eventually produce its own anti-venoms.
They show that the new anti-venom, manufactured by the University of Costa Rica’s Instituto Clodomiro Picado, effectively neutralises the lethal effects of Taipan venom in laboratory tests, and is suitable for human trials.
Leading snakebite expert, Professor David Warrell, who is in the country to help set up the trials, appealed to snakebite victims to take part in the trials.
“The most-important thing to emphasise is that we have a new candidate anti-venom, whose performance in laboratory tests and animals is very, very promising, and which we are confident will be the answer to the long-term problem of Taipan bites in PNG,” he said.
“We have to do clinical trials before we can launch this new antidote for snakebite with complete confidence.
“It depends on patients with snakebite coming in as quickly as possible to the hospital so that we can care for them, and that we can advance medical knowledge at the same time.”
Project coordinator, David “Snakeman” Williams, said legal agreements between all parties concerned had to be put in place before trials could start.
“We expect that all of that will be done over the next three weeks,” he said.
“Our aim is to start formally recruiting patients into the clinical trials around the beginning of May.”