BIRAC calls for research on animal-free antivenins

BIRAC calls for research on animal-free antivenins

The Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), set up by the Department of Biotechnology, put out a call for research into the development of modern, animal-free antivenins to counteract the effects of snake venom, which is currently treated in India with drugs made from horse blood.

BIRAC's announcement comes after Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) authorised inspections conducted by experts including a veterinarian and a scientist from People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) revealed rampant abuse of thousands of sick and malnourished equines on squalid Indian blood-harvesting farms. It also followed a series of meetings with committees consisting of members from various government departments and PETA, at which PETA the only participating animal rights organisation  pushed for the production of recombinant antivenom, which can be made in a laboratory without using horses.

"Non animal derived antivenoms would provide profound relief for the horses which are left to suffer without proper veterinary care while being used as living blood bags," says PETA Science Policy Adviser Dr Dipti M Kapoor. "PETA looks forward to the day when effective, animal-free antivenoms are the norm, and BIRAC has just brought us one step closer to achieving this goal."

Antivenoms made from animal-free recombinant technology would provide a uniform, higher-quality product with fewer side effects for the patient and they would have a longer shelf life than antivenoms made from animals. The PETA International Science Consortium Limited is funding the development of a non–animal derived antitoxin that can be used to treat diphtheria.

PETA notes that many equines at blood-extracting facilities suffer from anaemia as well as untreated wounds, diseased hooves, malnourishment, infections, parasites, swollen limbs, lameness, and eye abnormalities. At most of the facilities inspected by the AWBI, records indicated that many animals were bled several times a month and had more blood drawn than is permissible under the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA) guidelines. This year, CPCSEA temporarily suspended the experimentation licence of Chennai-based Mediclone Biotech Pvt Ltd one of the facilities implicated in the damning AWBI inspection reports pointing out that the institution has repeatedly failed to improve its animal-housing facility.

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