The University of Jos is seeking international collaboration for clinical trials and production of the world’s first anti-snake venom vaccine.
The vaccine, called COVIP-Plus, is the product of 24 years of intensive research by the institution’s Africa Centre of Excellence, in Phytomedicine Research and Development (ACEPRD).
Prof. John Aguiyi, the Director of ACEPRD, stated this at the 2019 US Africa Business Expo, held in New York at the weekend, on the sidelines of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly.
Aguiyi said that the vaccine, unveiled in July, was the potential solution to the huge burden of managing snakebite poisoning, which he said had become a global public health challenge.
According to him, people die of snakebite poisoning in Africa daily, but the public is not conscious if its seriousness, due to insufficient data.
He stated that victims were mostly rural dwellers, especially farmers, who produce the bulk of food that feeds the world.
“Snakebite poisoning is the most neglected public health disease in the world, with most of the victims in rural tropical and subtropical countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“WHO records indicate that about 5.4 million snakebites occur worldwide annually, resulting in 1.8 to 2.7 million cases of poisoning.
“According to the organisation, there are between 81,410 and 137,880 deaths, many amputations and other associated permanent disabilities each year, with most of the cases said to occur in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“According to available estimates, there are 497 snakebites per 100,000 population in Nigeria, with a mortality rate of not less than 12 per cent.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, snakebite poisoning is estimated at 420,000 per year, resulting in no fewer than 32,000 deaths.
“The mortality rate is attributed largely to poor management of snakebite cases and high cost of anti-venom drugs which are not so effective.”
In a presentation at the New York event, Aguiyi noted that COVIP-Plus would eliminate the high cost of managing snakebite poisoning, by providing immunity for up to one year.
He explained that the vaccine was a polyvalent anti-venom (capable of neutralising different snakebite poisons), sourced from a vegetable seed protein.
He said that COVIP-Plus had undergone successful laboratory tests since the start of the research work in 1994.
“We have successfully tested it against Malaysian, Pakistani, Brazilian and African snake venom, leaving us currently at the Phase 1 clinical trial.
“What we have is a preparation that will be cheap and stable; we want something that could easily be moved around, because the normal antiserum depends on cold chain for transportation.
“But, with what we have developed, you don’t need cold chain. You can move it around. It sustains itself, and is stable at about 40 to 59 degrees.
“We had to apply biotechnology in addition to local knowledge, to give a cloned product than can be expressed in bacteria, thereby making it cheaper for distribution.
“The anti-venom we have today sells for over 100 dollars (about N30,000). Local farmers cannot afford it without government subsidy.
“For this reason, we have something today that can readily be available in pharmacies, and at cheaper rates for farmers,” he said.
At a previous forum, Aguiyi had said that there were four phases in clinical trial process, with the first phase alone costing about N200 million.
In August, the Vice Chancellor of University of Jos, Prof. Sabastian Maimako, told a news conference in Jos that the institution was seeking funds to conduct the clinical trials.
Maimako said that the trials were capital intensive and that the university could not fund it.