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Anti-D 50th Anniversary: a year of celebrations

A global educational campaign

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Anti-D Immunoglobulins for the prevention of Rh sensitization during pregnancy, a condition that can lead to Hemolytic Disease of the Fetus and Newborn (HDFN). Exactly fifty years ago, the introduction of the prophylaxis was a fetal-maternal medicine breakthrough that resulted in a dramatic reduction in the incidence of HDFN in the Western world. By the 1970s, the implementation of Anti-D prophylaxis in Europe and the United States has put an end almost overnight to the terrible ordeal Rh negative women who wanted to have children had to withstand, and has literally saved the lives of millions of children.

Kedrion is proud to celebrate this anniversary and, to mark the occasion, is supporting an unbranded global educational campaign aimed at improving global awareness of the disease and its treatment. In the United States and around the world, our company is teaming with such institutions as the Columbia University Medical Center - where most of Anti-D research was carried out in the 1960s, - the CURhE (Consortium for Universal Rh-disease Eradication), the FIGO (International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians), the University of Stanford California and the Toronto Hospital for SickKids, among others, with the aim of establishing a veritable global alliance to celebrate the achievements of the past and campaign for a better future.

Columbia university kicked it off

Columbia University in New York hosted an event to kick off the campaign on 5 February, 2018. A round table, led by Professor Steven Spitalnik of Columbia University, featured notable panel members including pioneers in the development of Rh-disease prophylaxis - such as Dr John Gorman and Prof Alvin Zipurski - as well as representatives of major international organizations dedicated to spreading its benefits worldwide (SEE MORE)

In fact, even though it is no longer considered a threat for newborns in many countries, HDFN is still a serious public health problem in vast areas of the developing world, where the implementation of protocols for the sustained use of Anti-D has been insufficient, resulting in some 300,000 infants dying or being severely handicapped annually, 50 years after its introduction. Although Anti-D Immunoglobulins are on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines, many of the countries where this preventative treatment is most needed lack access to this prophylaxis, do not have appropriately trained medical personnel, or other resources needed to enact the necessary protocols.

One of the issues the campaign wishes to solve is how to meet these challenges and move forward with getting protocols for the use of Anti-D accepted and applied in more countries where HDFN remains a real problem.

Spreading worldwide

This global campaign has been taken up by the sector’s leading international scientific societies. Last April, FIGO – the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians dedicated to the prophylaxis for the prevention of Rh sensitization a Kedrion-supported special session of its Regional Congress for the Middle East and Africa area in Dubai. FIGO’s General Secretary Prof. Gian Carlo Di Renzo led the roundtable entitled “50 years of Anti-D: achievements and challenges” with the participation of Gerard Visser - Head of FIGO’s Committee for Safe Motherhood and Newborn Health - and of Rubina Sohail, President of the South Asian Federation of Obstetrics & Gynecology (SAFOG). (SEE MORE)

The Italian National Blood Center (CNS) also joined in the celebrations, hosting the international conference “Fifty years of Rh disease prophylaxis - Looking back, looking forward” on April 5 in Rome, at the National Institute of Health. CNS Director Giancarlo Maria Liumbruno led a discussion with international experts, among which was Prof Steven Spitalnik from Columbia University.

In May, Kedrion met with CURhE members, the Columbia University Medical Center and the Hospital for SickKids representatives in Toronto, Canada, to discuss strategies for moving forward. The conference was organized by Dr Alvin Zipursky of SickKids, one of the founders of CURhE. The agenda included several speakers who described initiatives in some of the countries where HDFN is still a problem, including Nigeria, Ghana and Pakistan.

The 50th anniversary was also celebrated at the 2nd Eurasian Summit on Women’s Health in Moscow in May. A Kedrion-supported session saw Professor Gian Carlo Di Renzo describe the benefits of Anti-D Immunoglobulin treatment and, at the same time, highlight that prophylaxis is not universally available to Rh-negative women at risk.

Honoring researchers, donors and patients

As part of this global campaign, in recent months Kedrion has backed several scientific community-driven initiatives as well as promoted events of its own.

A further partnership with Columbia University aims to restate and consolidate our company’s commitment through the years by supporting an initiative - the Gorman Lectures - that celebrates the discovery of prophylaxis for the prevention of Rh sensitization and its meaning forever. This series of annual conferences – dedicated to the main researcher who led the Anti-D studies, Dr. John Gorman – will start with an international scientific conference to be held once again at Columbia University on 1st November as an ideal closing of the “50 years of Anti-D” celebrations.

To recognize all Hyper-Immune Anti-D plasma donors and honor their altruistic and voluntary gift, an event was organized at KEDPLASMA’s Somerset Labs collection center in Williamsville, New York (USA), on 19 April. During the event, Kedrion received a Proclamation from the New York State Assembly commemorating the anniversary.

On the other hand, to confirm its closeness to patient communities, Kedrion also organized an event at its US headquarters in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in May, where the guest of honor was Marianne Cummins, the first woman to receive the prophylaxis treatment back in 1968. 

Wrapping up, looking forward

Celebrations are going on in the second half of 2018. First, a day-long symposium - “Fifty years of Rhesus Disease Prophylaxis; Aligning with the Global efforts” - was organized by the Nigerian Rhesus Solution Initiative (RSI), and held at the Sickle Cell Foundation Center in Lagos on 15 August. The event – supported among others by Columbia University, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, and Kedrion Biopharma, - brought together local and international medical experts to celebrate the anniversary, and discuss possible future improvements of standards of care in Nigeria. (SEE MORE)

The Fiftieth Anniversary and the campaign were also presented at the Mother and Child Congress in Moscow, Russia (26-28 September), the most important scientific-educational congress of the Russian Federation in the area of Gynecology and Obstetrics where, before an audience made of the main Russian experts in this field, a Kedrion-supported scientific symposium was dedicated to the “Prevention and Treatment of Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn. Successes Achieved and Objective Difficulties”. (SEE MORE)

The American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) also joined in the celebrations, hosting a scientific symposium titled “50 Years Later: The Current Status of the Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Treatment of Rh Disease” during its Annual Meeting in Boston, USA on 13 October. The speakers were Jeanne Hendrickson, Ellen van der Schoot, and Steven Spitalnik.

In October, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics’ XXII World Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil featured a plenary celebration of the 50th anniversary, during which FIGO’s General Secretary Prof. Gian Carlo Di Renzo and the Chairman of FIGO’s Committee for Safe Motherhood and Newborn Health, Professor Gerard Visser released a statement on the eradication of Rh disease. According to it, FIGO commits to “improving the awareness of this disease and the treatment therapies available throughout the world and drawing attention to the critical issues that still exist”.
As part of the “50 years of Anti-D” campaign, at the FIGO Congress in Rio Kedrion supported a symposium titled “50 Years of Anti-D prophylaxis: Accomplishments and Challenges”. (SEE MORE)

This one-year celebration of the 50 years of Anti-D wrapped up with the First Annual International Symposium for the Global Eradication of Rh Disease, held once again at Columbia University on November 1st and supported by Kedrion. As part of the Symposium, Nobel Laureate Dr. Peter Agre, among those who first cloned and sequenced the Rh Gene, presented the 3rd annual John Gorman Lectureship in Transfusion Medicine. This lectureship, named after Dr. John Gorman - one of the pioneers who developed the treatment fifty years ago at Columbia University - has now been funded in perpetuity by Kedrion Biopharma. (SEE MORE)

The BIRTH International Conference, taking place at the historic Palazzo del Cinema in Venice, Italy on 14-17 November was epilogue to the anniversary. Speaking before an audience of gynecologists and obstetricians from all over the world, FIGO’s General Secretary Prof. Gian Carlo Di Renzo gave a special lecture on “Fifty years of Anti-D prophylaxis: a look at the past in order to address the future,” in which he celebrated past accomplishments and historic milestones, while also reflecting on the current unequal access to treatment.

Kedrion Biopharma was proud to be a part in all of these initiatives and restates its dedication and effort to make a difference in those vast areas of the developing world where preventive treatment is not available for all women at risk. We are hopeful and determined that this will result in a wider access to care and eventually lift the fear of Rh disease for parents everywhere.