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New £80m programme to research snakebite treatments

Thursday May 16th, 2019

An £80 million programme is launched today to revolutionise research into the treatment of snakebites.

Wellcome, the global charitable foundation, said snakebites are “the world’s biggest hidden health crisis”, killing between 81,000-138,000 people every year. A further 400,000 people suffer life-changing injuries, such as amputations.

This makes the burden of death and disability greater than any other neglected tropical disease and is equal to that of prostate or cervical cancer, it says.

Professor Mike Turner, Wellcome’s director of science, said: “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.

“Treatment has progressed little in the last century, and is too rarely accessible, safe and effective in the places where it is needed the most. It’s an incredibly challenging issue – there has been almost no investment in snakebite research over the last decade – but it’s also one that is solvable with support from WHO, national governments, industry and other funders.”

Wellcome’s announcement comes just days before the World Health Organization (WHO) publishes its first snakebite strategy, which seeks to halve death and disability from snakebite by 2030.

The foundation says that less than half the required antivenom is produced globally and that some of it is not effective.

The method of manufacture of antivenoms, which are made by injecting horses with venom, dates back to the 19th century and there is no common production, safety or efficacy standard.

Existing technologies have not been applied to deliver better and safer treatments, and emerging technologies that could deliver a new generation of therapies are not being advanced, says Wellcome.

The foundation says that over the next seven years it wants to work with antivenom producers to make them better, safer and cheaper; help to build a regulatory system that gets more effective products to patients faster; and develop new and better treatments.

Tags: A&E | General Health | UK News | World Health

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