Originally Published: April 23, 2011 10 p.m.
A new bioscience company is setting up shop in Prescott that's taking the deadly sting out of Arizona's venomous creatures.
BioVeteria Life Sciences is bringing its veterinary operations here with active rattlesnake and scorpion antivenom programs in the works.
Dr. Craig Woods, a research veterinarian and general manager of BioVeteria, said the plan is to have senior level management, technical support, inventory and sales and distribution of antivenoms and other products for veterinary uses. Woods said he has several employees under contract now and the plan is to hire three employees this year.
"We'll handle their (BioVeteria's) global veterinary operations here in Prescott," he said. "The growth potential is pretty sizeable."
Creating antivenom for snake, scorpion or spider bites is a lengthy process that many people don't think about, according to Woods.
"I think it's one that a lot of people, they just don't understand how big of a process it is," he said. "It's one of the reasons that many of the major pharmaceutical companies are bowing out, it is such an onerous process to make an antivenom."
The process begins with getting a snake, extracting pure venom and then vaccinating a sheep or horse with the venom.
Woods said the animal's body has an immune response, creating antibodies against the venom. The antibodies are taken from the animal and purified into the antivenom.
"It's kind of like the old days where you hear of people taking a small amount of poison and building up a tolerance," he said. "This is one of the reasons it's so difficult to make antivenoms, because the process that goes into it is not simple, it is very, very complex."
A lot of money goes into making the antivenoms and that cost also hits consumers seeking remedies for pets with venomous bites.
Dr. Kenneth Skinner sees about a handful of cases each year.
A typical scenario is a pet owner brings their dog into the Prescott Animal Hospital for treatment of a snake bite that plays out four to six times annually, usually in the summer months, and can cost owners a pretty penny to get Fido healthy again.
Skinner said the main culprits of dog bites are rattlesnakes, namely the western diamondback, the Mohave green and the timber snakes.
Most snake bites require one vile of antivenom and treatment of the bite and treatment costs fall in the $1,500 to $2,000 range, depending on the type of snake and time of year, according to Skinner.
Yavapai County does not track snake, scorpion or spider bites unless someone gets a disease from it.
While the northern part of the state doesn't see the volume of bites that hits pets in southern Arizona, Woods said in a news release that the state is the epicenter of venomous snakebites.
Veterinarians treat about 25 times more venomous snakebites compared to physicians and only one approved antivenom for veterinary medicine exists.
That makes a huge market to create the antivenoms to prevent serious complications and deaths of pets.
"I am fortunate to see first-hand how our antivenom efforts are benefiting animals and could eventually help human medicine," he said.