A NEW anti-venom for the deadly Papuan taipan, one of the most venomous snakes in the world and the leading cause of snakebite death in Papua New Guinea, has been developed by the Australian Venom Research Unit and will cost one-eighth of the current exorbitant price.
Clinical toxicologist and herpetologist David Williams,popularly known as “Snakeman” because of the number of snakebite victims he has saved, told The National of the breakthrough as he prepares to leave PNG this week to take up an appointment to the WHO 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 (poisoning) 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 has 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 UPNG.
“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.
“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.
“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,” Mr Williams added.