New treatment for snakebites

Existing medicine shows to be effective against certain snakebites.

05/14/2020 | 2:01 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 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.

Medicine
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