Razi Institute Allays Fears Over Venom Production

Razi Institute Allays Fears Over Venom ProductionRazi Institute Allays Fears Over Venom Production

Extraction of venom from rare snakes by the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute (RVSRI) has not endangered the species as once the venom samples are extracted in their natural habitats the reptiles are released again into the wild, said Naser Mohammadpour, a senior official at the institute.

Earlier, some news outlets had reported that the Department of Environment (DoE) had warned that six snake species used by the RVSRI are facing the threat of extinction.

As per a MoU signed with the DoE six years ago, the institute should restrict the use of rare snakes for production of anti-venom products in order to protect the endangered species, Mehr News Agency reported.

Further, the snakes should be released into their natural living areas without harm after the venom is extracted. Capturing and transport of live snakes is only allowed in parts of Khorasan Province.

In response to a query whether the institute is harvesting snakes, he said, “Eight years ago we stopped harvesting snakes and all the captive ones are released after extracting the venom. We have equal responsibility towards environment conservation.”

A new MoU is on the agenda as the earlier one has expired, he said.

Mohammadpour denied that the RVSRI had snakes in captivity and pointed out that as per the World Health Organization, in order to produce effective antidotes, snake venom should be extracted in nature and not in labs, as the quality can change with a change in their diet and habitats.

“People shouldn’t pass judgment on such important, sensitive issues related to saving human lives. They should know that if antidote production from snake venom is halted then snakebite victims will not survive.”

Ironically, the properties that make venom deadly are also what make it so valuable for medicine.

Venoms can actually be harvested as potential medicinal treatments and cures. From using scorpion, bee, and snake venom for cancer treatment to employing venom immunotherapy to treat insect sting allergies, researchers around the world have investigated the therapeutic effects of a wide variety of animal and insect poison.

When used the right way, the poison that would typically kill human beings can actually save their lives.

  Increasing Demand

There is an increasing demand for antidotes, Mohammadpour said. In 2013, around 40,000 vials were required. The number has increased to 80,000 at present.

Also annually, 7,000-10,000 vials of anti-venom are exported. Each vial contains 10 ml antidotes and costs $52.

“Despite the fact that Iran is the second country in the world with the highest variety of snakes as well as the highest number of snakebites, fatalities have been rare.”

There are more than 61 species of snakes in Iran, of which 21 are venomous.

RVSRI is one of the oldest and most reputed scientific centers in Iran. The institute began its activities in 1925 by producing vaccine against Rinderpest under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Rinderpest at the time had caused large casualties in the cattle population.

The institute is now supervised by the Agriculture Jihad Ministry and works closely with the Health Ministry and Iran Veterinary Organization.

An acclaimed center of research, training and technical assistance for vaccine production it is governed by a board of trustees and has its headquarters in Karaj, Alborz Province.