Researchers develop new anti-venom

National, Normal

The National, Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A new treatment has been developed for one of Papua New Guinea’s most-neglected health problems, the kiss of death of the Papuan taipan.
The treatment is the result of several years of hard work by a small group of Papua New Guinean researchers led by an Australian scientist working inside a modest unassuming brick building in a quiet corner of the University of PNG’s Taurama Medical School.
This week their work emerged into the international spotlight following publication in a prestigious medical journal of the first results in the testing of a new Papuan taipan snake anti-venom which is hoped will save hundreds of lives every year.
PNG has some of the highest snakebite rates in the world.
In some parts of Central, the mortality rate is several times higher than malaria, TB and pneumonia death rates, largely because of a lack of interest in the problem had made access to safe, effective treatments scarce and unaffordable.
The high cost of imported Australian anti-venoms had made it increasingly difficult for the government to meet the demand and that had contributed to a black market for anti-venoms which are often stolen from hospitals and sold illegally for up to US$3,200 (K7,710).
This may soon all change as 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 and Nossal Institute for Global Health, announced the successful preclinical testing of a new, low-cost Papuan taipan anti-venom, that not only offers a sustainable solution to the problem, but provides the opportunity for PNG to eventually produce its own anti-venoms.
Results of the WHO-recommended preclinical assessment tests of the new anti-venom have been published this month in the open access journal, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (
They showed that the new anti-venom, manufactured by the University of Costa Rica’s Instituto Clodomiro Picado, effectively neutralised the lethal effects of taipan venom in laboratory tests, and was suitable for human trials.
The project was initiated by AVRU and Nossal Institute for Global Health snakebite researcher, David ‘Snakeman’ Williams who has studied snakebites in PNG for a decade, and long championed the goal of empowering PNG to produce its own anti-venoms.