Biopharmaceutical company Bharat Serums and Vaccines (BSV) is partnering Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, to develop next-generation snakebite therapy in India.

BSV will collaborate with IISc’s ‘Evolutionary Venomics Lab’ to develop region-specific antivenoms, the company said. Present-day treatments are based on a single polyvalent antivenom designed for the ‘big four’ snakes in the country.

Recent research at the lab had highlighted the “alarming consequence” of inter- and intra-species variations in venoms on the effectiveness of antivenom, BSV said. “The polyvalent antivenom inefficaciously neutralises the venom from distinct populations of the ‘big four’ snakes, as well as many other local clinically important snake species. Thus, there is an urgent need for the development of region-specific antivenom in the country,” it added.

Sanjiv Navangul, Managing Director and Chief Executive, BSV, said that the effort was to partner with institutes like IISc to promote research in the neglected area of the biodiscovery aspects of venom in India. “It is our collective endeavour to widen access to snakebite treatment, and, as BSV continues to innovate in India for India and the world, we are confident that effective interventions involving education and antivenom provision would reduce snakebite deaths not only in India but also neighbouring countries in South Asia and Afghanistan,” he said.

Dr Kartik Sunagar, who leads EVL, said that snakebites annually cause over 58,000 deaths in India. And four times as many suffer from permanent loss-of-function injuries, such as amputations, he added.

In the past, BSV has partnered with IISc to initiate a PCR-based risk assessment for various disease in equines, in line with the World Health Organization’s Anti Venom Guidelines 2010. This initiative ensured the viral safety of BSV’s equine plasma-derived products, a note from the company said.

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