Scientists Develop Single Antivenin Effective Against 18 Venomous Snake Species

Research could pave the way for an affordable multi-species antivenin for countries that need it most.

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Scientists in Thailand used 12 venom samples from six venomous snakes to create a serum that can treat 18 different venomous snake bites in mice. Via Rushenb/Wikipedia
Scientists in Thailand used 12 venom samples from six venomous snakes to create a serum that can treat 18 different venomous snake bites in mice. Via Rushenb/Wikipedia
John Virata

Scientists in Thailand say that they have developed a snake bite antivenin that can mitigate the venom of 18 different snake species, including Asian and African cobras.

They also hope that the antivenin that they are developing will be more affordable and will have a more profound effect on those countries and regions that need the antivenin the most, according to National Geographic.

Scientist Kavi Ratanabanangkoon of Bangkok’s Chulabhorn Research Institute and his colleagues developed the antivenin using 12 venom samples from six venomous snakes of Asia, including two cobra species and two kraits. They then injected non-lethal amounts of the venom into horses. The horses developed antibodies, which the scientists collected.
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Forest cobras are found in western and central Africa. Via Gerhardt Nieuwoudt/Wikipedia

Forest cobras are found in western and central Africa. Via Gerhardt Nieuwoudt/Wikipedia

The scientists removed only the most potent venom proteins in three-fourths of the samples taken, testing the theory that using the strongest venom proteins would result in a more effective antivenin.

To test the antivenin, the scientists injected the serum into laboratory mice that had been injected with snake venom and all the mice recovered after receiving the serum. It was discovered that the antivenin they created not only effectively treated venom from the six snake species that they used to create the venom, but also from 12 other related venomous snake species.

While the study is small and has not been compared with single species antivenins, the research is a “good proof-of-principle,” according to Leslie Boyer, director of the VIPER Institute at the University of Arizona. She told National Geographic that the work of Ratanabanangkoon and his colleagues is a great example of a more practical approach than a high-tech effort to make a synthetic antivenin.

“I like it, and from everything that I’ve heard, Asia is so desperately in need of ways to treat snakebites for rarer snakes in smaller countries,” Boyer told National Geographic. “That would be a tremendous improvement in public health.”

The next step for Ratanabanangkoon’s team of scientists is to get funding for a larger study, and then human trials. If all goes well, Ratanabanangkoon hopes that when the multi-species antivenin hits the market, it will be affordable and easy to attain, with no patents attached to it.

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