Snakebites: costing recombinant antivenoms

The cost of producing antivenoms from recombinant human antibodies to counter the shortage of animal-derived antisera against snakebites is not as prohibitive as you imply (Nature 537, 26–28; 2016).

We estimate that 500–2,000 kilograms of therapeutically active antibodies would be needed to produce enough antivenom to treat the 1 million or so people bitten annually by snakes in sub-Saharan Africa. On the basis of production data for monoclonal antibodies (N. Hammerschmidt et al. Biotechnol. J. 9, 766–775; 2014) and for oligoclonal antibody mixtures (S. K. Rasmussen et al. Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 526, 139–145; 2012), we calculate that antivenoms created from a mixture of recombinant antibodies could be produced on this scale for US$55–65 per gram.

A typical African snakebite could therefore be treated with a pan-African recombinant-antibody antivenom for $30–150. This compares favourably with the wholesale cost of a typical dose of conventional antiserum ($60–600, which includes packaging and transport, as well as production, costs).

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Correspondence to Andreas H. Laustsen.

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Laustsen, A. Snakebites: costing recombinant antivenoms. Nature 538, 41 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/538041e

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