An antivenom that protects against all deadly snake bites could be on the horizon due to a breakthrough by British scientists.
Researchers at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine say they are one step closer to a wonder drug that would allow doctors to treat victims without knowing what kind of snake has bitten them.
More than 125,000 people die every year due to snake bites around the world, with a universal antivenom saving a huge number of lives.
The World Health Organization this year added snakebite to its list of neglected tropical diseases, with the true number of people who are killed likely being much higher as some countries do not keep accurate records.
The venom specialists in Liverpool have shown it is possible to treat a bite from one snake with antivenom produced from a completely different species.
‘Provides a basis for looking at antivenom in a new way’
In particular, they identified an antivenom produced from the saw-scaled viper, one of south Asia’s, and the world’s, most dangerous snakes.
In lab experiments on blood and mice, the same antivenom worked on a potentially lethal amount of venom from the boomslang snake; a very distant relative of the saw-scaled viper.
Lead author of the study Dr Stuart Ainsworth said: ‘This work is extremely exciting and we hope it provides a basis for looking at antivenom in a new way.
‘Traditionally, when producing an antivenom that could treat the bite of many different snakes, we have done so from a geographical standpoint.
‘However, we have now shown that it may be of more benefit to allow clinicians an opportunity to treat the symptoms they see without having knowledge of the exact species of snake involved.’