1Animal Venom Research International, Moreno Valley, California, 2 Dept. of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN; 3Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka; 4Instituto Clodomiro Picado, University of Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica; 5School of Public Health, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.
Background: Sri Lanka, a tropical island nation, is a developing country that endures significant economic and medical burden as a result of snake envenomation. The native people suffer 40,000 venomous snakebites annually, and the country has one of the highest snakebite mortality rates in the world. Ironically, the very snakes responsible for these statistics are a valuable national resource, both ecologically and medically, despite the medical and economic consequences of snake envenomation. Currently, no antivenom is produced using venoms from native Sri Lankan snakes as immunogens, and there is a true need for an optimally efficacious, Sri Lanka poly-specific antivenom.
Methods: Animal Venom Research International (AVRI), a non-profit charity, has coordinated and bridged the knowledge and resources from the United States and Costa Rica with those of Sri Lankan official governmental agencies, legal counsels, environmental, medical and veterinary academic institutions, and religious and cultural leaders to achieve development of an efficacious poly-specific snake antivenom. The initial phase of the Sri Lanka Antivenom Project has involved the acquisition of land and fund raising, in addition to the acquisition of legal permits, documents, and establishment of official agreements between different institutions. Development of protocols to ensure the humane housing, maintenance, and venom collection from Sri Lanka’s medically important species of snakes needed to be established. Additionally, the timely communication between all agencies, institutions and personnel involved was essential to move forward.
Results: A serpentarium and water-well (built and funded by AVRI) have been completed. The building is thermally controlled for optimal snake health, and has a fulltime staff. Five medically important species, Daboia russelli, Naja naja, Hypnale hypnale, Echis carinatus, and Bungarus caeruleus have been collected from different geographic areas in order to provide representation of venom component variability within a species. Snakes have been humanely maintained, and have received regularly monitored veterinary care. Venom collection from each species is ongoing at this time, and is lyophilized post collection for shipment to Instituto Clodomiro Picado, Costa Rica where equine immunization protocols will be instituted, aimed at generating a pilot batch of poly-specific antivenom. On days of venom collection a medical toxicologist is in attendance at the serpentarium.
Conclusion: A successful collaboration with the Sri Lanka government, official agencies, academic institutions, and implementation of the Sri Lanka Antivenom Project for developing a poly-specific antivenom, derived from Sri Lankan snake venom/immunogens, has been effectively coordinated and implemented via the efforts of AVRI.