The Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) has
managed to produce commercially viable amounts of anti-venom serum at
its sero-biology laboratory.
The foundation laying ceremony of the Dow Institute of Life Sciences,
which will be dedicated to pursuing similar kinds of research, was
organised at the Governor house on Thursday, where DUHS vice chancellor
Prof Masood Hameed Khan shared the results of the applied biotechnology
Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan unveiled the foundation block of the
building of the new animal sciences department that will be established
on DUHS’ Ojha campus, from where the laboratory has been functioning.
Meanwhile, at the animal sciences department on the varsity’s Ojha
campus, professors proudly claimed the distinction for being the first
in the country to make the antibody serum against snake venom in bulk.
The development is especially momentous because the country had to
import such medicinal drugs from outside as no medical institute was
able to manufacture them in large quantities before. The National
Institute of Health in Islamabad is the only institute in the country
that makes this serum, but it does so in very limited quantities. “We
import about 45,000 vials of anti-venom serum from India and Saudia
Arabia every year. Each vial can cost as high as Rs1800, which
translates to into a burden of Rs67.5 million on the national
However, when DUHS sero-biology lab starts functioning at its optimum
level, Dr Khan predicts that they will be able to produce the anti-venom
for up to Rs 400 per vial.
According to the DUHS vice chancellor, nearly five million people get
bitten by snakes everywhere in the world, of whom about three million
get seriously affected or even disabled, while 125,000 die. Most of the
3,500 fatal snakebite cases in the country are reported from Sindh and
While explaining the origins of the project, Dr Zameer Ahmed, an
assistant professor at the laboratory, said that the project was started
almost two years after snakebite incidents rose in the wake of the
devastating floods that had hit the province. The shortage of anti-venom
at the time was palpable. “It was then that our university decided to
make it ourselves,” said Ahmed.
The university later constructed a snake house and then stocked it with
as many varieties of snake as the country had to offer.
Dr Khan said that nearly four principle varieties of snakes are found in
Pakistan, namely the cobra, Russel Viper, Krait (called Sangchore in
local language) and Saw Scale Viper (called lundi in local language).
Researchers then started checking how snakes’ venoms worked. “We found
out that most of the anti-venom serums that we imported were only
partially effective because they were prepared from snakes that are
found in other regions,” he explained.
While explaining the procedure for preparation of the serum, Dr Ahmed
said that the researchers used a host animal, like a horse, and hyper
immunised it with non-lethal doses of one or more venoms. The
immunological response triggered by the process produces neutralising
antibodies against the various toxins of the venom. Horses were used by
because it was easier to use them to mass-produce the antibodies. The
antibodies are later altered chemically altered so that they complement
the human immune system to attack snake venom.
A team compromising Dr Ahmed, DUHS syndicate member Dr Abdul Ghaffar
Billo and Dr Khan visited the Instituto Bhutantan in Brazil to seek
validation of the serum samples produced by the sero-biology lab. The
Instituto Bhutantan is known as one of the best sero biology
laboratories in the world.