Potential COVID-19 Treatment Could Come From Doctor’s Search for Snakebite Drug

by Chris Haney

On Friday, the Los Angeles Times published an article about a doctor who possibly found a COVID-19 treatment through his research and the creation of a snakebite drug.

Emergency room doctor Matthew Lewin set out to create a modern snakebite treatment. He knew there was a need, especially in rural areas, for an affordable and easy to use snakebite drug. That’s exactly what his Corte Madera, CA company, Ophirex, has come close to inventing. Their new oral snakebite treatment can easily fit in someone’s pocket, is stable, user friendly, does not cost as much as alternatives, and will treat the venom from numerous types of snakes.

“That’s the holy grail of snakebite treatment,” said Lewin.

In fact, Lewin and his team have received multimillion-dollar grants from the U.S. Army and a British charity. Ophirex has successfully tested the new drug on mice and pigs. However, the treatment could save thousands of lives each year if human trials go to plan, which begin next year.

The doctor’s research focuses on a drug called varespladib. Additionally, Lewin and his team realized there could be other benefits to the drug. Varespladib has a positive effect on acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is associated with COVID-19. Lung inflammation caused by COVID-19 produces the sPLA2 enzyme. The same enzyme – yet, even more deadly – is produced by snake venom.

For now, Ophirex is still focusing on creating the best snakebite treatment available on the market. But, Lewin’s research could lead to a potential COVID-19 treatment in the future.

Snakebite Endangers Two Hikers in Yosemite Park

In a related story, rattlesnakes in Yosemite Park bit two different hikers in September. Officials said rescuers airlifted each of the hikers to a hospital for treatment.

According to SFGate, the first snakebite took place while the hiker stopped for a fishing break. “A rattlesnake bit one man in his mid-30’s as he was fishing barefoot in the Tuolumne River on August 27,” park officials reported.

In addition, the second rescue happened just a few days later. A group went hiking together in Yosemite Park, and one of the hikers got bit by a rattlesnake while climbing a steep slope.

“We were on the trail, hiking by ankle-high shrubs, when out of the blue—with no rattle, no hiss, no sound whatsoever—a snake struck,” said a member of the hiking group.

In the L.A. Times article about Dr. Lewin’s new snakebite treatment, it reports that most current treatments are extremely expensive. American hospitals charge as much as $15,000 per vial of the treatment. However, a single snakebite may require anywhere from four to 50 vials to treat a patient. Furthermore, anti-venom is only available for around half the world’s species of venomous snakes. Lewin and his company’s research could benefit thousands of snakebite victims, and save them tons of money at the same time.