New treat­ment for snakebites

Existing medicine shows to be effective against certain snakebites

05/18/2020 | 2:31 PM

A team of re­searchers, in­clud­ing Laura-Oana Al­bulescu and Nicholas Casewell of Liv­er­pool School of Trop­i­cal Med­i­cine (LSTM's) Cen­ter for Snakebite Re­search and In­ter­ven­tions and AIMMS researcher Jeroen Kool of the VU’s di­vi­sion of Bio-An­a­lyt­i­cal Chem­istry demon­strate a com­pletely new way of treat­ing snakebites. Re­cently the paper was pub­lished in Sci­ence Trans­la­tional Med­i­cine. The team has shown that the re­pur­pos­ing of an ex­ist­ing med­i­cine, com­monly used to treat mer­cury poi­son­ing, is an ef­fec­tive oral ther­apy for the treat­ment of cer­tain snakebites.

Poi­so­nous snakes
Snakebite is one of the world’s biggest hid­den health prob­lems with up to 138 000 vic­tims dying every year, and around 400 000 vic­tims left with per­ma­nent phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties or dis­fig­ure­ments. Those most af­fected live in some of the world’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, Asia and Latin Amer­ica and often rely on agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties for their in­come. These ac­tiv­i­ties put them at risk of snakebite by work­ing in areas in­hab­ited by ven­omous snakes, and the re­mote­ness of many of these com­mu­ni­ties makes ac­cess­ing ap­pro­pri­ate health­care prob­lem­atic. Snakebite vic­tims in rural set­tings are there­fore often greatly de­layed in re­ceiv­ing treat­ment.

Among the tested com­pounds of the re­search team, dimer­caprol and its de­riv­a­tive 2,3-dimer­capto-1-propane­sul­fonic acid (DMPS) were found to in­hibit the in vitro ac­tiv­ity of snake venom en­zymes that rely on zinc ions to func­tion. Using an­i­mal mod­els mim­ic­k­ing a snakebite, the team then demon­strated that DMPS pro­vided pro­tec­tion against the lethal ef­fects of venom from saw-scaled vipers – a group of med­ically im­por­tant snakes found widely dis­trib­uted across parts of Africa and Asia. The team’s paper sug­gests that DMPS could be re­pur­posed as an oral med­i­cine for treat­ing snakebite vic­tims soon after a bite, and be­fore they travel to a health­care fa­cil­ity. Jeroen Kool says: “The ad­van­tages of using a com­pound like DMPS is that it is al­ready a li­censed med­i­cine that has been proven to be safe and af­ford­ablea.”

Pri­or­ity ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases (NTD)
Snakebites were re­cently clas­si­fied as a ‘pri­or­ity NTD’ by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO), who have since de­vel­oped a strat­egy to halve the num­ber of snakebite deaths and dis­abil­i­ties by the year 2030 by im­prov­ing ex­ist­ing treat­ments, de­vel­op­ing new ther­a­peu­tics and em­pow­er­ing local com­mu­ni­ties to im­prove pre-hos­pi­tal treat­ment es.