15
May
2019

The quest for better snakebite treatments gets a funding boost

The black mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa

The black mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa

Avalon/Photoshot License / Alamy

By New Scientist staff and Press Association

A multimillion-pound programme has been launched to improve treatment for snakebites, which are thought to kill up to 138,000 people each year.

Treatments for snakebites can be expensive or ineffective, a problem that disproportionately affects people living in the world’s poorest places. Current methods for making antivenom involve using antibodies extracted from horses – a process that hasn’t changed since the 19th century and carries a high risk of contamination and adverse reactions in patients.

Of those who survive venomous bites each year, 400,000 people develop life-changing injuries, including amputations.

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To tackle this, the Wellcome Trust has announced £80 million in funding for a new research programme on snakebite treatments. The programme aims to make antivenoms better, safer and cheaper.

“Snakebite is – or should be – a treatable condition. With access to the right antivenom there is a high chance of survival. While people will always be bitten by venomous snakes, there is no reason so many should die,” says Mike Turner, of the Wellcome Trust.

The World Health Organization is expected to publish a strategy next week for halving the number of deaths and disabilities from snakebites by 2030.

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