Bite treatment producers prepare for monsoons

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2001:

PUNE, HYDERABAD, CHENNAI– The interfacing politics of snakebite treatment, rabies vaccination, and laboratory animal care in India heated up with the approach of the summer monsoons. In Pune the Haffkine Institute disclosed that it had resumed production of snakebite antivenin on May 30, despite lack of authorization from the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals, which closed the facility on March 26.

According to Anil Deshmukh, the Maharashtra minister of state in charge of Food and Drug Administration, the Haffkine Institute had already “complied with all the recommendations” of the CPCSEA, which was created on paper in 1960 but only began inspecting laboratories when activated by federal minister of state for social justice and empowerment Maneka Gandhi in 1998. Now operating all over India, the CPCSEA enjoyed an enhanced reputation after exposing a dog-theft-for-research ring in Delhi during late May.


The Haffkine Institute produces antivenin by injecting snake venom into horses and then collecting the horses’ antibodies via blood serum. Poisonous snakes typically have enough venom to kill their prey and defend themselves–occasionally–against threats as large as
a monkey, a human, or even a leopard, but horses have sufficient body mass to withstand venom injections at the normal snakebite dosage.

However, the abrupt deaths of large numbers of horses last year at the Haffkine Institute and the King Institute, in Chennai, brought allegations that the antivenin producers were trying to maximize profits by overdosing, overbleeding, and underfeeding horses, whose exercise, hoof care, and veterinary treatment were also allegedly neglected. The Haffkine Institute was closed after another six horses died there in February 2001.

“We are now drawing blood from horses twice a month instead of four times,” Deshmukh told The Times of India, “and have undertaken improvements in the feeding, stables, animal dispensary, and diet.” Deshmukh said resuming production of antivenin was necessary because of the elevated risk of snakebite during the monsoons.

The King Institute, which actually had more horse deaths in 2000, never ceased antivenin production, but in March 2001 did surrender 46 horses to People for Animals, for retirement to a sanctuary started by Ravi Prakash Khemka of the NEPC Group, near the NEPC Group windpower plant. ANIMAL PEOPLE visited the King Institute with PfA and exposed the conditions in our January/February 2001 edition.

Antivenin supplies are depleted worldwide. The sole U.S. supplier, a Wyeth-Ayrst plant in Pennsylvania, has quit production due to U.S. Food and Drug Administration criticism of quality control, according to Los Angeles Times staff writer Noaki Schwartz. A Protherics PLC product believed to be superior but costing almost twice as much, called CroFab, has been available since December 2000.

Rabies vaccine

The continued production of obsolete pharmaceuticals, with government subsidies, is commonly rationalized in India by claiming that they are the only affordable option for the poor. That was the line taken in Hyderabad on June 23, as well as in Pune, when about 600 employees of the Institute of Preventive Medicine and 250 workers from health care charities demonstrated against a government proposal to close IPM.

Opened in 1975, IPM makes a post-exposure rabies vaccine cultivated in sheep brains, invented by Louis Pasteur in 1885. IPM director P. Sangram took a leave of absence on June 22, succeeded by Maharashtra inspector general for drugs and copyright Alok Srivastava.

Srivastava explained to T. Lalith Singh of The Hindu that the sheep brain vaccine is too unreliable, compared to newer vaccines, to warrant further manufacture. Srivastava expressed hope that IPM could instead begin making modern cell culture vaccines, which have much less risk of failure.

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