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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Shot in the arm for snake victims
Nigerian Carpet Viper
The Carpet Viper is very aggressive
Thousands of people in west Africa are to benefit from a snake bite antidote produced by a west Wales biotech company.

MicroPharm, from Carmarthenshire, has won a multi-million pound order to produce an antidote to bites from the Nigerian Carpet Viper.
Sheep
Blood from sheep provide antibodies

The Nigerian Carpet Viper (Echis Ocellatus) is responsible for more than 1,000 deaths in the country each year.

MicroPharm uses sheep antibodies to produce the anti-venoms.

The firm has been backed by the Welsh Assembly and the Nigerian Ministry of Health.

The country's health minister Professor ABC Nwosu visited the plant this week to commission the manufacturing facility.

Devastating

There are plans to establish a similar site in Nigeria within the next two years.

The Nigerian Carpet Viper's natural colouring enables it to blend in with its surroundings to devastating effect.

In the worst affected areas during the sowing and harvesting seasons, around 50% of all hospital beds will be occupied by snake-bite victims.

Many of the victims, usually children and agricultural workers, die as a result of suffering uncontrolled bleeding and paralysis.

Serum & antidote
Antidote is extracted from sheep serum

Dr Geoff Shellswell of MicroPharm said: "Most snake bites occur in the developing world so that, in addition to being safe and effective, the anti-venoms must be affordable to the people at risk.

"We are developing more cost effective ways of providing inexpensive anti-venoms.

"We are based in rural Wales because this is where the sheep are.

Production

"We operate under strict Home Office guidelines, so no harm comes to the sheep and they are well cared for."

The process of producing antidotes starts with immunising the sheep with very small amounts of a particular snake's venom.

The animal's immune system then produces antibodies to the venom.

Blood samples are taken from the sheep and the antibodies are extracted from the serum.

These are subjected to a purifying process to produce the antidote.

See also:

14 Sep 00 | Africa
Snake bite antidote in Nigeria
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