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November 8, 2019

DUHS awaits Drap’s go-ahead for mass production of anti-snake venom serum


November 8, 2019

The Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) is awaiting permission from the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) to start commercial production of ‘biological’ anti-snake venom sera after its team of scientists successfully obtained what it said ‘purified and concentrated immunoglobulins’ from the serum of healthy horses immunised against the venom of four common poisonous snakes of Pakistan, officials said.

“We are the first public sector university in Pakistan which has successfully developed the anti-snake venom sera from the blood of horses. Clinical trials of the sera have been completed and we are now awaiting Drap’s permission to start the commercial production of locally prepared anti-snake venom sera,” said Dr Shaukat Ali, incharge of the anti-snake venom sera project of the DUHS, while talking to The News on the other day.

DUHS officials, for the first time, revealed their commercial facility to the media where the anti-snake venom sera would be prepared. Media persons were also taken to a biological facility where around 44 horses have been kept, whose blood would be extracted after they would be induced with snake venom.

Pakistan imports bulk of the anti-snake venom sera from India and Saudi Arabia. Although the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, has revamped its vaccine production facility, officials say the NIH Islamabad cannot not meet the requirements of the anti-snake venom sera in Pakistan where over 8,000 people die annually due to snake bite.

“Most of the deaths due to snake bite occur because of four snakes in Pakistan. They are cobra, krait, Russell's viper and saw-scaled viper. On the other hand, anti-snake venom sera imported from India and Saudi Arabia is prepared from the venom of snakes that are not found on our soil”, Dr Ali said and added that they were using local species of the snakes to prepare anti-snake venom sera, which would be helpful in saving precious lives.

Accompanied by pharmaceutical industry engineers, including Khursheed Haider, Irfan Malik, Shaikh Qaiser Waheed, Dr Bilquees Yasmin as well as DUHS Pro Vice Chancellor Dr Zarnaz Wahid, Dr Ali said they had established the country’s most modern biotechnology plant and added that with the start of the commercial production of the locally-manufactured vaccine, they would be the first public sector organisation which would be bringing their own biotechnological product in the market.

Dow University officials said they had established one of the latest biotechnology plant at the health varsity, which was capable of producing 0.5 to 0.7 million vials of the anti-snake venom sera in a year.

“Our biotechnology plant is a state-of-the-art facility with equipment from Europe and China and we have established it as per international standards. After acquiring DRAP’s go-ahead, we would also apply for the WHO prequalification of the plant so that the anti-snake venom sera could be exported to other countries after meeting the local requirements,” Dr Ali maintained.

To a query, he said their next plan was to start research for the production of anti-snake vaccine (ARV), which is currently being imported from India while a limited quantity of the ARV is also being prepared at the NIH. He added that so far they had not made any stride towards the ARV production at DUHS.

Dr Talat Rumi, the incharge of the DUHS animal facility where horses are kept for acquiring their blood to isolate immunoglobulins to make the anti-snake venom sera, said at the moment, they had 44 horses acquired from the Pakistan Army which could be used to acquire blood to isolate the immunoglobulins.

The incharge added that they were planning to increase the number of horses to 200 to meet the local requirements of the anti-snake venom sera.

“Our stables have the capacity to keep around 200 horses and as soon as the production of the ASV sera starts, we would increase the number of horses to meet the production requirements,” she said.

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