The universal antidote for snakes

It was all thanks to a molecule that protects against a deadly toxin. It will help develop a new effective antidote. A team of researchers says they are developing the universal antidote for venomous snakes.

Of all the poisonous animals on Earth, snakes are the largest. About 400 of the 3,500 species are dangerous to humans. Every year, more than 100,000 people die from it. There are no new effective antidotes.

The universal antivenom for snakes is underway.
The universal antivenom for snakes is underway.

Searching for the panacea

There is no universal serum due to the exceptional complexity of the composition of snake venom. It has proteins and peptides of different types, with a wide variety of structures, functions and biological objectives. Some destroy the nervous system, others act locally, causing hemorrhages or thrombosis.

Each snake species has a unique secretion composition, based on enzymes from many chemical families. It is impossible to neutralize all toxins. But the risk of death can be reduced by acting against some of the most destructive substances.

These are three-fingered alpha-neurotoxins, characteristic of all asps, including mambas and cobras. They cause flaccid neuromuscular paralysis and death from asphyxiation. It is possible to select a neutralizing antibody for all of them. This strategy is being used to develop antiviral agents, including against HIV. Viruses are known to mutate quickly, but certain parts of their genome do not change. Vaccines that protect against new variants target precisely them.

Scientists from the United States, India and the United Kingdom have accepted this challenge. They analyzed data on long three-toed alpha-neurotoxins stored in the Medically Useful Snakes database. Of 60 billion human antibodies, they selected those that recognized a common site. They synthesized them and selected the best variant: 95Mat5. Its effectiveness was tested in mice injected with natural venom from Asian and African snakes.

Venomous snakes kill more than 100 thousand people a year.
Venomous snakes kill more than 100 thousand people a year.

Against toxins

The universal antidote for snakes is possible. “It works as a universal antivenin against any medically relevant snake in the world,” says Irene Khalek. She is a scientist at Scripps Research and the lead author of the work.

The universal antidote will have four or five antibodies effective against the most dangerous types of toxins. Many monoclonal antibodies targeting specific snake venoms can be added to the mix. The study was published in the journal Science.

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