Dr. Boyer’s Antivenom for Deadly Scorpion Stings

Dr. Leslie Boyer

By Sallyann Ficarrotta

The first FDA-approved drug for killer scorpion stings was developed in Latin America by Dr. Leslie Boyer, from the University of Arizona, and Dr. Alagón, from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Their 12-year collaboration achieved a monumental medical breakthrough resulting in an antivenom for scorpion stings called Anascorp.

There are many non-deadly scorpion species, but some like the Bark Scorpion – mostly found in Mexico, Arizona and Nevada – are deadly. The C. Limpidus and the C. Noxious scorpion species have killed many.

In the United States there are approximately 15,000 reported scorpion stings a year, Boyer said.  Only 150 to 200 of those stings actually cause significant damage and would require an antivenom intervention.

In Mexico 250,000 people are stung by killer scorpions a year. Many of those incidents happen in Durango, Mexico. That was the base camp for Boyer and Alagón’s research during the past decade. There they worked with horses that became “super animals”. Through injections of scorpion venom, the horses became immunized over time. The horses’ bodies were full of antibodies that were extracted to create the antivenom that was used to save many lives.

When someone is stung by a killer scorpion, there are many horrible side effects including death. When stung: arms will flail, the lungs malfunction, salivary glands work overtime creating too much saliva to swallow, and victims can drown in their own spit. It’s a scary sight for most to see, according to Boyer.

Dally Bray, a 2-year-old, died three hours of being stung from a scorpion sting in 2002. He died of two things: the sting and an allergic reaction to the goat serum – goats were used for antivenom before horses. According to Boyer, Bray’s parents wanted a meaning for why God took their son.

“I’ll keep your son’s memory and if there are ways that doctors like me can do better for future children, your son’s memory will help guide us” Boyer said.

Five years later, Dally Bray’s 5-year-old brother Morgan was stung by a scorpion. Ms. Bray called for a helicopter that brought her son to Boyer’s emergency room.  She wanted Boyer to treat her son.

The parents had to sign a consent form prior to Boyer’s treatment. Part of the consent was to inform them of a possible allergic reaction to the experimental drug that could lead to death, which is how their other son died. When she showed it to his mother they both cried, but they knew it was the right decision. Boyer gave their son the antivenom. Within 15 minutes he sat up and was asking for a hamburger. “We felt so good” Boyer said.

The miraculous event helped Boyer and her team continue the fight to get Anascorp through the FDA to market in America. On August 3, 2011 the FDA issued its own press release for Anascorp. A giant banner of a scorpion was hung in Time Square to celebrate the success.

The antivenom costs $19 in Mexico. In a hospital in Arizona it can cost $8,000 to $28,000 per vile. It can take multiple vials to cure someone. Sunrise Children’s Hospital in Las Vegas carries the antivenom.

Recently, Boyer’s son was stung and she couldn’t afford the antivenom. She spent the last 12 years of her life discovering Anascorp, and she couldn’t help her own son. That left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“My daughter has the picture from Time Square hanging as a poster on her wall, and she is so proud, and my son couldn’t be treated with the drug.  I mean what kind of mother pulls off a miracle like that and then can’t treat her own child?” Boyer said

There is much work to be done in America to get Anascorp into hospitals at a reasonable cost.

Boyer gave a speech at the College of Southern Nevada on October 1, 2012. David Schultz, an international language professor at CSN, planned the successful event.

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