CORTE MADERA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Ophirex, Inc., a public-benefit biotechnology company working to improve outcomes for global victims of snakebite, announced today that it has received a $2.5 million award from the Wellcome Trust’s £80 million (approximately $100 million) commitment to improve treatment of snakebite. The award will fund manufacturing of oral and IV varespladib, Ophirex’s lead drug candidate, for use in Ophirex’s upcoming, potentially pivotal clinical trial studies.
Ophirex is developing varespladib as a first-in-class, toxin-targeting antidote for snakebite, with the ultimate goal of safe and rapid administration to snakebite victims in the out-of-hospital setting where — without immediate access to antivenom — most snakebite deaths occur. By inhibiting the progression of a key venom component called “sPLA2,” varespladib could mitigate many of the most common, immediately life-threatening effects of snakebite envenoming. In preclinical studies, the drug candidate has shown potential to act against this most lethal component of snake venoms, across a broad spectrum of geographically diverse snake species.
“Ophirex is targeting a crucial unfilled gap between when snakebite occurs and when victims can obtain medical care — if they have access to it at all,” said Dr. Nick Cammack, the leader of Wellcome’s snakebite priority area. “We have been impressed by the data amassed to date and excited to help support testing of the potential of Ophirex’s novel approach to transform outcomes for populations in need.”
“Wellcome has taken a leadership role in addressing the need for investment and development in snakebite treatment, and we are honored by their recognition of our potential to move the field forward,” said Nancy J. Koch, CEO of Ophirex.
Dr. Matthew Lewin, Ophirex’s founder, noted that “Wellcome is making snakebite a global public health priority and is providing a critical contribution to our effort to provide immediately accessible life- and limb-saving snakebite treatments where they are needed most.”
In conjunction with the Wellcome award, Ophirex and Wellcome have also established a group that will monitor developments in the field of snakebite treatment and identify opportunities involving Ophirex’s and other new technologies in a collaborative approach toward filling unmet needs in the field of snakebite envenoming.1,2
Wellcome’s groundbreaking £80 million program, announced in May of 2019, focuses on improving snakebite treatments and access to them and signifies important recognition of the enormous, largely unaddressed suffering of snakebite victims in often poor, rural areas of Africa, Asia and South America. The World Health Organization (WHO) reinstated snakebite envenoming to its list of neglected tropical diseases in 2017 and, more recently, has outlined strategies to reduce the death and disability toll from snakebite — currently approximately 500,000 people per year — by half by 2030. In early 2019, the WHO Snakebite Envenoming Working Group specifically identified Ophirex’s drug as a priority for accelerated study.1
- Williams DJ, Faiz MA, Abela-Ridder B, Ainsworth S, Bulfone TC, Nickerson AD, Habib AG, Junghanss T, Fan HW, Turner M, Harrison RA, Warrell DA. Strategy for a globally coordinated response to a priority neglected tropical disease: Snakebite envenoming. Gutiérrez JM, ed. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2019;13(2):e0007059. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0007059.
- Surugue L. Why is it so hard to stop people dying from snakebite? 2019. https://mosaicscience.com/story/snakebite-antivenom-crisis-Africa-Togo/.
About Ophirex, Inc.
Ophirex, Inc., is a public benefit corporation working to develop safe, effective, and accessible initial treatment for snakebite envenoming, which kills or disables at least half a million people worldwide annually, mostly in rural, impoverished areas. The company’s lead drug candidate, varespladib, blocks sPLA2, a prevalent, highly toxic component of venom present in at least 95 percent of snake venom types. Varespladib is intended for worldwide human and veterinary use, with an oral formulation for use in the field, where most bites occur, and an intravenous formulation for use in medical settings. Ophirex was founded via the work of expedition doctor Matthew Lewin, MD, PhD, with support from musician and entrepreneur Jerry Harrison.