Images of Michael Spino and Fernando Tricta: Courtesy of National Post
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Toronto, June 10 (Canadian-Media): The Humanitarian of the Year Award, for researching a medication that clears excess iron from the bodies of patients with thalassemia, would be awarded jointly to two Toronto scientists, Michael Spino and Fernando Tricta from Cooley’s Anemia Foundation Gala in New York City this month, media reports said.
Patients having thalassemia -- a genetic disease in which the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells -- receive blood transfusions every two to four weeks for their entire lives, which results in a buildup of iron around vital organs and most commonly, the heart.
The drug Deferiprone clears excess iron from the bodies of patients with thalassemia.
Before the approval of deferiprone, thalassemia patients had to get eight-to twelve-hour long overnight injections directly into their stomach.
“I tried it once,” said Tricta. “I tried to sleep with this. I injected myself for one night and it’s not a pleasant experience. And this is every single day, “NationalPost news reports said.
Tricta from Brazil, had been observing the pain and the daily struggle of the kids and their parents with the injections and began searching for an easier solution.
He started his career by founding the first Brazilian treatment centre for children with thalassemia.
He had seen that if the children with thalassemia did not take those injections at least five days a week, every week, their chance to survive was very little.
Tricta also saw that when these patients “become adolescents and then they think that, ‘nothing’s gonna happen to me,’ and they decrease their use of medication. That’s when we used to see the patients die. They go into heart failure and they die, in front of our eyes.”
It was only after deferiprone oral tablets were approved that patients started taking a few pills a day.
In 1996, Michael Spino, one of the scientists of ApoPharma invited Tricta to collaborate with him in the development of the drug deferiprone.
Initially Tricta declined, as he did not feel comfortable working in a pharmaceutical company, but when Spino said that it was public interest and that Tricta agreed to work with Spino.
“He said the commercial interests would never trump the welfare of the patients,” said Tricta.
Although deferiprone had been licensed for use in Europe and Asia for years, it was only in 2011 that it was approved for use in the U.S. .
It was approved in Canada in only 2015 and that too with great controversy.
The cause of the controversy was the result of the research findings of Toronto haematologist Nancy Olivieri, highlighting deferiprone led to progressive hepatic fibrosis.
Regardless of this fact, the drug has been in use in more than 50 countries.
Maria Hadjidemetriou was diagnosed with thalassemia when she was two years old and described deferiprone as “fantastic.”
“My breathing got better … And it got better and better and better as the days went on.”
She has high regards for Tricta and Spino and said, “They never gave up on us.”
Tricta was greatly moved by Hadjidemetriou's compliments.
“As a clinician, I could not have greater satisfaction in my life that I have participated in something that has impacted so many lives,” said Tricta. “I’m very honoured and humbled by this award.”
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)