Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anti-venom breakthrough for Papuan taipan

The deadly Papuan taipan, one of the most-venomous snakes in the world.-Picture by DAVID WILLIAMS
David “Snakeman” Williams and the Papuan taipan that bit him in 2007, while filming a segment for the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent programme on PNG’s anti-venom woes.

A new anti-venom for the deadly Papuan taipan, one of the most-venomous snakes in the world and leading cause of death in Papua New Guinea, has been developed by the Australian Venom Research Unit and will cost one-eighth of the current very expensive price.
Clinical toxinologist and herpetologist David Williams – popularly known as “Snakeman” because of the number of snakebite victims he has saved – told of the breakthrough as he prepares to leaves PNG this week to take up an appointment to the World Health Organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland.
The cost of a vial is currently K4, 500; however, the new anti-venom will cost K600-K650 per vial.
“The Papuan taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) is responsible for more than 90% of all cases of envenoming in south-eastern PNG, and the cost of treatment with available anti-venoms manufactured in Australia currently exceeds K4, 500 per vial,” Mr Williams said.
“Analysis of the incidence of bites by taipans have resulted in needs estimate of at least 700-1, 000 vials of appropriate anti-venom each year, yet, much less than this is purchased by the National Department of Health because it cannot afford this many vials at the current prices.
“We have developed a new equine whole IgG (Immunoglobulin G) monovalent anti-venom raised against venom from Papuan taipans maintained in the research collection at the University of Papua New Guinea.”
“This new product ‘Papuan taipan monovalent IgG anti-venom ICP’ was raised by
immunising horses maintained at the Instituto Clodomiro Picado in Costa Rica with venom and harvesting plasma for fractionation to obtain a whole IgG preparation.”
Mr Williams said after passing all the preclinical stages, the anti-venom would then be ready to be shipped to PNG for clinical evaluation of dose, safety and efficacy.
“We therefore propose to seek both ethical approval and funding for a randomised,
control trial of this new anti-venom - against current taipan anti-venom - in the second half of 2010, and hope that local doctors will embrace participation in the important trial,” he said.
“As a result of global warming, and the expansion of agricultural practices such as palm oil production, forestry and rice growing, the incidence of envenoming by Papuan taipans will undoubtedly increase over coming years.
“If patients are not to be left to die, then we must take action to enable PNG to control the production of anti-venom to meet the present and future needs.
“Our new IgG anti-venom is likely to have a final production price of K600-650, and will not only produce significant cost savings to government, but through wider availability and greater stability, save many thousands of lives in years to come.”

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