Leslie Boyer
Leslie Boyer

Dr. Leslie Boyer, a native Tucsonan, has never been stung by a bark scorpion or bitten by a poisonous snake, but she has played a leading role in developing treatments for those who have.

A pediatrician who specializes in toxinology, a branch of toxicology that studies the adverse effects of natural venoms, she is the founding director of the VIPER Institute at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, which coordinates clinical trials of antivenoms for scorpion, snake and spider injuries with 150 faculty members in other universities around the world.

In a presentation of special interest to desert dwellers, Boyer will be at the Arizona Senior Academy next Thursday (Aug. 7) at 3:30 p.m. to talk about the challenges of developing antivenoms and bringing them to market.

Although scorpions sting as many as 12,000 Americans a year, only two or three hundred of the victims suffer life-threatening nerve poisoning.

To the Food and Drug Administration, a scorpion sting is not just a “rare” disease, affecting fewer than 200,000 people annually, but also an “orphan” with a small geographical footprint.  An American drug company can’t realize a profit by

making an antivenom for a small number of patients.

In Mexico, where antivenom research and manufacture is well established, every year a quarter of a million people are treated for severe stings from eight lethal relatives of Arizona’s bark scorpion.

In 2004, with an FDA orphan grant, Boyer began a clinical study of the scorpion antivenom Anascorp in what she calls “a robust and delightful collaboration” with Dr. Alejandro Alagon, a biochemistry professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and an adviser to the Mexican company manufacturing the drug.  In 2011, the VIPER Institute introduced Anascorp.

Two years later, the FDA honored Boyer as a “Hero of Rare Diseases” for her groundbreaking work on snakebites and scorpion stings.

“Our research at VIPER is ongoing,” Boyer says. “We’re working on treatments for coral snakes and black widow spiders and even better ones for rattlesnakes. There’s a need for antivenoms around the world.”

Submitted by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer

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Antivenom Research ‘Hero’ to Give Academy Update: August 2014
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