Every day, thousands of people in the UK take antivenom for Lyme disease. Worse yet, very little research on this front has been done and there is no clear way of knowing how many people are being treated with unreliable antivenom. No pharma company has yet licensed any blood bank for testing. We have to rely on family and friend recommendations, which might not be reliable.
Luckily, there is a solution in the form of Antiviral, a Cambridge-based company working with blood banks to offer “stamp-like” patches for lab tests of antivenom supply. This means that you could never use a mistakeant pill on your infected patient, leaving him or her to die a horrid death from the protozoan that’s given the drugs. But this is still some way off. A lot of questions need to be answered before Antiviral gets to market.
For one thing, Antiviral still needs to prove that it works. We don’t know what exact amount of the drug should be needed to get protection — it’s going to need to deliver medication far more efficiently than current existing drugs do, which might mean a dramatic increase in price.
Second, Antiviral is supposed to send regular batches of blood supply batches to their labs, so there should be backups available. But blood banks aren’t very good at this — most have one or two large blood banks that can send out a steady supply from the patient pool, with plenty of stocks saved up for training or other temporary shortages. The lab in which Antiviral must send its test results might get rusty if every day it has to run thousands of tests.
The most important piece of evidence is whether Antiviral is actually a good solution for the current problem.
The most important piece of evidence is whether Antiviral is actually a good solution for the current problem. For a patent-pending product to get the green light, it needs to be quite different to its competition, otherwise a judge will rule it is too similar. Antiviral, for example, has fewer central molecules than existing antivenom but many more shorter, shorter wave—waves — molecules, which are incredibly difficult to measure. These are needed in order to prevent the protozoan from replicating and generating new infection. Scientists at Antiviral believe they can deliver these very short wave—waves — molecules efficiently and effectively. They are currently making their test kit which contains these molecules for rats. It is, needless to say, a highly complicated test.
Antiviral’s plan is to send out a sample of infected blood to its labs and they’ll sift out all the bad stuff. To get to the point where they can provide data on whether Antiviral works for use in humans, they need to see what a real test would look like. This would likely take decades. They are currently planning to build their laboratory in Cambridge, so that when they do get to market, they can release their data in a reasonable amount of time.
Here’s hoping that, in the end, Antiviral will provide enough data to prove their case. And we, the public, can be sure that the first warnings for tick bites don’t turn out to be a wake-up call that we don’t have enough antivenom for the people who need it.