Tens of thousands of people will die unnecessarily from snake bites because of an imminent manufacturing shortage of serum, said the NGO, known in English as Doctors Without Borders.
The non-profit called snake bites “a seriously neglected health crisis”, especially in Africa, and said mortalities are likely to rise “unless the global health community takes action to ensure treatment and anti-venom is made available.”
The only anti-venom proven to be safe and effective in treating snake bites from various Sub-Saharan snakes is Sanofi’s Fav-Afrique, although some alternative products of unknown quality are sold in Africa.
Sanofi ceased production of Fav-Afrique in 2010 and remaining batches will expire in June 2016. Production takes roughly two years, meaning the product will be unavailable for at least this long.
Sanofi: ‘production costs’
Alain Bernal, spokesperson for the pharma company, said Sanofi’s vaccine business had stopped producing Fav-Afrique because of its cost to manufacture.
“For several years, Sanofi Pasteur has been raising the awareness of the international health authorities concerning the market conditions, which do not allow it to continue producing the Fav-Afrique anti-venom immunoglobulins.
“The growing competition from producers in emerging countries, whose production costs Sanofi Pasteur cannot match, has progressively contributed to focus demand mainly on price criteria.”
Bernal added the company was responding to “a lack of visibility concerning demand,” very long production and quality control lead times, and “a marked drop in the demand for anti-venom immunoglobulins marketed under the name Fav-Afrique (from over 30,000 to less than 5,000 annual doses).”
Instead, he said, the company is focusing its production capacity on rabies immunoglobulins, “for which the demand is growing and predictable, and which are facing insufficient supply issues worldwide.”
He added Sanofi Pasteur is leaving open the possibility that another pharma company could take over production of the serum. “Since suspending its production of Fav-Afrique immunoglobulins in 2010, Sanofi Pasteur has been studying partnership/technology transfer opportunities with other immunoglobulin producers, which could make it possible to resume production and continue to market these anti-venom immunoglobulins.”
Meanwhile, MSF’s neglected diseases advisor Julien Potet called on Sanofi to “start to generate the base material needed to produce Fav-Afrique, and then find suitable opportunities within their production capacity to refine it into antivenom” until an alternative product is found.
“We are now facing a real crisis so why do governments, pharmaceutical companies and global health bodies slither away when we need them most?” added MSF snake bite medical advisor Gabriel Alcoba. The charity estimates the antidote costs patients $250-500. “Imagine how frightening it must be to be bitten by a snake – to feel the pain and venom spread through your body – knowing it may kill you and there is no treatment available or that you can’t afford to pay for it?”
Alcoba and Potet are due to speak today on improving snake bite management in tropical regions at the 9th European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health in Basel, Switzerland.