A breakthrough in battling snakebites: the promise of a universal antivenom

Credit: Unsplash+

Scientists at Scripps Research have made a groundbreaking discovery in the fight against snakebites, which claim over 100,000 lives each year, primarily in Asia and Africa.

Their development of an antibody capable of neutralizing the venom from a wide array of snakes represents a significant leap toward a universal antivenom.

This new antibody has shown remarkable efficacy in mice, providing protection against the deadly effects of venoms from notorious snakes like the black mamba and king cobra.

The research, detailed in Science Translational Medicine, hinged on identifying and targeting a common feature found in the venoms of diverse snake species.

The traditional method of producing antivenoms—by immunizing animals with snake venom—is limited in scope, with each antivenom typically effective against only a single species.

This poses a challenge in regions where multiple venomous snakes pose a threat, necessitating a variety of antivenoms.

Drawing inspiration from their work on HIV, where broadly neutralizing antibodies target the virus’s immutable regions, the Scripps team applied a similar strategy to snake venoms.

They focused on a specific protein, known as three-finger toxins (3FTx), which is a common and highly toxic component across the venoms of elapid snakes (such as mambas, cobras, and kraits).

These toxins have conserved regions that are similar across different species, making them an ideal target for a universal antivenom.

By engineering mammalian cells to produce these toxins in the laboratory, the researchers screened billions of human antibodies to find those that could neutralize the 3FTx proteins.

This exhaustive search led to the identification of a particularly effective antibody, named 95Mat5, which demonstrated the ability to protect mice from the venoms of several deadly snakes.

The success of 95Mat5 lies in its mimicry of the human protein that 3FTx toxins typically bind to, a strategy similar to that used by certain HIV antibodies.

This discovery is notable for its synthetic approach, avoiding the need for animal immunization or the use of actual snakes.

While 95Mat5 offers a promising solution against elapid snake venoms, it does not neutralize viper venoms, which represent another major group of venomous snakes.

The research team is actively pursuing antibodies that target additional elapid and viper toxins, with the goal of creating a comprehensive antivenom cocktail.

This potential universal antivenom could revolutionize the treatment of snakebites worldwide, particularly benefiting low- and middle-income countries where the burden of snakebite mortality and morbidity is highest.

The Scripps team’s innovative approach could pave the way for effective, broad-spectrum antivenoms, offering hope against one of the world’s most neglected tropical diseases.

The research findings can be found in Science Translational Medicine.

Copyright © 2024 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.