New Jersey doctors are tapping an unlikely source to help stroke patients.
The venom of the Malaysian pit viper is the potent ingredient found in an experimental drug called Viprinex now being tested at three New Jersey hospitals. When given intravenously, Viprinex has been shown to help dissolve clots that plug arteries and cut off oxygen and blood flow to the brain.
According to doctors, the major advantage of Viprinex, which also thins the blood, is that it may be effective as long as six hours after a stroke patient's symptoms begin. That would double the window of the only government-approved clot-busting therapy, called tPA, which must be given within three hours.
The fact that less than five percent of stroke victims get to a hospital in time has greatly limited the use of tPa, or tissue plasminogen activator. In addition, some doctors are hesitant to use the drug, which has been available since 1996, because it causes bleeding in the brain in about six percent of patients.
"What many investigators have been looking for is something that can dissolve clots with less risk of bleeding," said Martin Gizzi, the neurologist who heads the New Jersey Neuroscience Institute at JFK Medical Center in Edison, which is participating in a clinical trial of Viprinex.
Under the trial's guidelines, some patients will receive Viprinex, while others get a placebo. Doctors won't know who got the real thing until the research -- which is being conducted at 200 sites worldwide -- has been completed in 2009. Patients are followed for 90 days after receiving the drug so their level of recovery can be assessed.
The drug is derived from the venom of the Malaysian pit viper, an aggressive snake that inhabits forest edges across much of Southeast Asia and grows to about three feet in length. The venom is frozen before being purified and converted to a drug product, explained Warren Wasiewski, the scientist overseeing the trial for Neurobiological Technologies Inc., the Edgewater drug company that makes the drug.
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