leadership

Leadership, Remembered

This has been a week of leadership reflection regardless of who you voted for. I read from one news source that Biden made this a campaign about character; and many friends on Facebook stand by Trump for his policies. These traits, and so many others, are what make up leadership. While it has been a rocky week, and an exhausting, challenging year, it is all about leadership.

Laurie Kelley and Renee Paper 2002

I reflected on leadership this week coincidentally, while remembering one of the greatest and most unique leaders we ever had in the bleeding disorder community—Renée Paper. She passed away November 7, 2007, at age 49. If you ever got to meet her and hear her speak, you probably never forgot it. I always say she was a great lady, in size, intellect and passion. The most intelligent woman I ever met. She had a photographic memory, razor sharp tongue, ribald sense of humor, love of animals and fiery passion to help people. She was an emergency room nurse who had von Willebrand disease (VWD), and truly became our foremost spokesperson and advocate for women with VWD. After hearing her speak (like a cannon going off) at various events five times, I was so excited myself (why wasn’t anyone doing anything to help those with VWD?), that I talked her into co-authoring a book with me, which became the world’s first book on VWD, published in 2004.

I could not imagine that I’d lose this amazing person, who lectured like an old time preacher, who could draw audiences from young women to seasoned hematologists, who pounded the podium in her quest to get the NHF, the country, doctors, patients and even the government to take women with bleeding disorders seriously. Who can forget her favorite line? “Know why doctors don’t take us seriously when we tell them we bleed too much and too often? Because men don’t have uteri!” And she would smile to see the audience either squirm (the men) or roar with laughter and approval (the women).

She and I traveled together, presented together, wrote together. She loved coming to visit my zany household (“You let your kids roller skate in the house?” she asked incredulously) And then proceeded to reprimand me for not giving my elderly dog pain killers.

I loved Renée and sadly witnessed her demise; years of health issues took their toll. She died far too young. She had character and was a character. She also possessed those vital traits of great leaders: compassion, boundless energy, drive, passion, and vision. She didn’t live long enough to see her vision come true. We do have much better care for those with VWD now. But I often wonder hw much further we could have gone, had this amazing leader stayed with us a bit longer.

A new edition of A Guide to Living with von Willebrand Disease will be available in 2021.

Prepare for Big Changes

When we use the word “transitions” in hemophilia, we normally think about our child’s life cycle (or our own) and how it impacts healthcare: Children transitioning into adulthood at age 18 need to see an adult hematologist, not a pediatric hematologist. Adults finishing college or trade school need to transition into the workforce. Adults at age 26 need to transition off their parents’ health insurance. We may have joint issues as we age.

But we can also view transitions as something happening to hemophilia treatment, because that has a life cycle too. And right now, hemophilia treatment is undergoing massive, rapid change. New products, novel therapies, and gene therapy…can the US market of roughly 20,000 with hemophilia support all the products? Will insurance cover them all?

A Look Back: Our Infancy

If we accept that hemophilia treatment has a life cycle, let’s look back at its infancy and development. Early treatment for hemophilia involved whole blood transfusion and later, human plasma. Fresh frozen plasma (FFP) allowed treatment to be stored and then thawed when needed. Whole blood and FFP were both only marginally effective at controlling a bleed, due to the low level of factor VIII and large volumes that needed to be infused. Then, in the mid-1960s, came cryoprecipitate: rich in factor VIII, and created from thawed human plasma. Its higher factor VIII level in a smaller volume made administration easier, faster, and more effective.

A breakthrough came with commercial clotting factor concentrate in 1968, made from donated human blood or blood plasma. This new plasma-derived concentrate was freeze-dried and reconstituted with water when needed. Factor in a bottle! Now treatment could be done at home or away, freeing patients to travel and live more normal lives. Infusion time was tremendously shortened, meaning treatment could stop bleeding faster, reducing pain and helping to prevent joint disease. But these early factor concentrates were not treated to inactivate viruses. Tragically, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, contamination of the nation’s blood supply from donors infected with HIV, hepatitis C, and other viruses meant that clotting factor was also contaminated. Thousands of people who had hemophilia and used factor concentrates were infected and died.

In the mid-1980s, a new stage in the life cycle of hemophilia treatment emerged: the creation of factor that was virally inactivated. Viral inactivation processes, such as heat or solvent/detergent wash, could destroy the fragile HIV. Today, all clotting factor is considered safe.

The deaths of so many led to another groundbreaking stage in the life cycle of hemophilia treatment: recombinant clotting factor. Recombinant factor is produced in a lab, using human genes that are inserted into genetically altered mammalian cells. In 1992, the first recombinant factor VIII clotting factor product (Recombinate, manufactured by Baxter) was approved by the FDA. In 1997, the first recombinant factor IX product (BeneFix®, manufactured by Genetics Institute) entered the market. And now? There are now about 20 recombinant factor products on the market to treat hemophilia. We’ve come a long way.

The Family Expands: Crying for Attention

Why so many products? There are some things to know about the factor market. First, the US is the largest market. Not in population—that would be China. But in dollars. Estimates are $4.6 billion annually.1 This lucrative market attracts competitors. But factor products are protected by patents. So to avoid patent infringement, changes or improvements are made to products, making them slightly different. Some of these changes have involved production processes; and the quest to remove unnecessary human and animal proteins gave us “generations” of recombinant factor products.

Now we have three recognized generations of factor products: First-generation products use animal blood proteins in the cell culture medium, and add human albumin, a blood protein, to the final formulation to stabilize the factor. Second-generation products stabilize the factor with sucrose, not albumin. Third-generation products use no added animal or human proteins, either during processing or in the final formulation.2 Today, all factor products except for Recombinate and Kogenate® FS are third generation. A special shout-out to Octapharma’s Nuwiq®, a recombinant factor VIII product that uses a human cell line instead of an animal cell line in its production process.

Recombinant products, by reducing the potential for viral transmission, are an improvement over past products. And yet first-generation products remain in use, as do plasma-derived products. So far, there seems to be a purpose and a place for all products.

Growth Spurt!

But consumers want more. Researchers found ways to keep infused factor circulating in the body longer, by extending its half-life—meaning fewer infusions and less burdensome treatment. Eventually, extended half-life (EHL) factor was created. After a relatively calm 10 years in the marketplace with what is now called “standard half-life” or just “standard” factor, EHL factor came along, resulting in a big growth spurt in the life cycle of hemophilia treatment. Hailed as the next best thing, EHL factor was and still is heavily promoted. Biogen created the first two EHL products, which were soon followed by EHL products from Baxter (now Takeda), Novo Nordisk, Bayer, and CSL Behring.

  The creation of EHL products seemed like the exciting, wild teen years for our community. Children with hemophilia lived even more normal lives, without infusing so often. Freedom!

Family Feud

In the midst of this growth spurt and innovation, some major shifts were taking place in the hemophilia marketplace. Companies were separating, divorcing, getting married, taking on lovers, adopting other products. Baxter split off its biological division (which made its factor products) to become Baxalta. Genetics Institute was bought by Wyeth, which was then bought by Pfizer. In the early 2000s, Bayer had divested its plasma division, which became Talecris. Then Grifols bought Talecris (you can still see the primary color bar on the Koate®-DVI box, the same bar that appears on Kogenate FS). Biogen, soon after launching its groundbreaking EHL products, suddenly divested its hemophilia group, which became Bioverativ. Soon after the new sign was up at Bioverativ’s headquarters, it was bought by Sanofi Genzyme. Baxalta must have been a very attractive mate, because soon after it was spun off by Baxter, it was snatched up by Shire, an Irish pharmaceutical company. Just when everyone was getting used to Irish brogues, Shire was purchased by the Japanese company Takeda, a pharma titan.

 Perhaps no products have changed hands more than those of CSL Behring, starting in the 1980s, when it was Armour Pharmacuetical. And although CSL Behring has remained the parent company since 2007, it has recently abandoned some hemophilia products: Helixate® FS and Monoclate-P®. Its focus is now on EHL products only for hemophilia.

And this is the concern for the future life cycle of hemophilia treatment: Can the market sustain 20 recombinant products? Which products will be removed next from the marketplace? Will product change come from the consolidation of companies buying each other and reducing overlapping product lines? Will it come from flagging sales, if one product dominates the market? Or will product change come from a novel treatment—using no factor at all?

Newest Child

One product getting a lot of attention these days is the newest addition to the family—Hemlibra®, a nonfactor antibody product that mimics the action of factor VIII in the body. It’s used for prophylaxis in people with hemophilia A and inhibitors, and in those without inhibitors. The product’s clinical success has many patients cheering on Facebook, some advocates cautioning consumers to wait and see, and some doctors already prescribing it for newborns. Hemlibra is called a “market disruptor” for a reason. It’s created a whole new way to treat hemophilia: with weekly to monthly subcutaneous injections. And people with inhibitors are reporting no bleeds for weeks, even months in some cases. Will factor concentrate still be needed? Read Wendy Owens’s feature article in this issue to learn the answer!

The life cycle of hemophilia treatment has entered a new phase, perhaps similar to young adulthood, where there are many options, and our community has been educated and prepared. We’re ready for greater independence from this disorder, and ready to live life more on our own terms.

But like all young adults, we still need advice from our elders, from our blood brothers, from our physicians. And we need to do our own homework. We need to read about current products and new ones that will enter the marketplace. Do you feel informed enough to choose? Will your insurance cover all the new products? Will you switch to another product, if one day your insurance company no longer covers yours?

 Stay in touch with the life cycle of hemophilia treatment: name changes of the corporate players, which products belong to whom, and especially, the manufacturer of the product you use. Decisions at the top—by government, by corporations, and by insurance companies—may eventually impact your choice of treatment.

We have more freedom and more choices than ever before, but we need to exercise responsibility, by learning all we can. Because one thing is for certain: we are only in the young adult stage of hemophilia therapy. Prepare for more growth and more change.  It’s coming.

  1. Mark Terry, “A Look at Hemophilia Drug Prices and the Market,” biospace.com, July 3, 2018 (accessed June 2, 2019).
  2. Recombinate is a first-generation recombinant product. Kogenate FS is a second-generation product. Advate, Adynovate, Afstyla, Alprolix, BeneFix, Eloctate, Idelvion, Ixinity, Jivi, Kovaltry, Novoeight, Nuwiq, Rebinyn, Rixubis, Vonvendi, and Xyntha are third-generation products.

Leadership Lessons from the Andes

Iron cross at memorial, Valley of Tears, Argentina

On October 13, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed at 11,710 ft in the inhospitable Andes, while bringing 19 young members of a rugby team, and their families and friends, to neighboring Chile. Thus began perhaps one of the greatest survival stories known. Amazingly, 33 of the 45 on board survived the initial crash, some with injuries that would later claim their lives. And 72 days later, 14 were rescued after two more of the survivors walked out of the Andes to find help.

It was a miracle anyone survived at all. Due to pilot error, the plane descended too early in dense cloud cover, and struck a mountaintop. The tail snapped off, then both wings were sheared off. What remained of the fuselage tobogganed down a steep slope and smashed into a mound on a glacier. Stunned, many in agony from wounds and shock, wearing only street clothes, the survivors sprang into action, displaying heroic teamwork.

I journeyed to the crash site on January 7, 2020, high in the Andes, accessible only by hiking or horseback, to pay my profound respect to those who perished. They are buried in a mass grave on a ridge near the crash site. There is also a makeshift memorial, with an iron cross, upon which people leave personal mementos. This story has touched millions of lives throughout the last 48 years, and only a few get to come here, to the “Valley of Tears,” to see the place where so much agony, sorrow, terror, solitude, struggle and leadership took place.

Leadership?

Yes, amazing leadership. In fact, what made the story at once famous and infamous in 1972 was the fact that the survivors were forced to eat the flesh of the dead to stay alive. But to me, this story was always one of leadership and teamwork, and the lessons learned from it are applicable to many situations, including hemophilia and bleeding disorders. I thought of our community often while in the Andes, and while reading the many books about the crash.  While there are many leadership lessons, I mention just a few here.

Leadership Lesson 1. Take action. Just seconds after the crash, those young men (some only 19 years old) who were not injured quickly rallied to help those who were. They triaged the sick and wounded so as to help those most in need.

Leadership Lesson 2. Establish a situational leader. Here, the natural leader, who was miraculously uninjured, was Marcelo, the captain of the rugby team. An immediate leader was needed to keep people focused and optimistic, and avoid hysteria. Marcelo, handsome, intelligent and commanding, was able to get people organized for the night, where temperatures were probably 30° below zero or more, block the fuselage hole with luggage to protect from the wind, and calm the group by discussing rescue possibilities.

Leadership Lesson 3. Use the tools at hand. The boys had nothing to prepare them to stay in the Andes. They wore light clothing, shoes. Luggage had been lost. But they made blankets out of seat covers, a water-maker out of metal sheets to melt snow, sunglasses out of materials from the plane’s windshield, to protect against snow-blindness, snowshoes out of cushions, and of course, food from the bodies of those who died.

Leadership Lesson 4. Form a community. Not all of the boys knew one another, and not all were rugby players. But they formed a community, calling themselves “The Society of the Snow.” And in this community, everyone had a role. They had a doctor (first year medical student), engineer (a 19-year-old with some experience), someone to make water, someone to cut the meat, and others to play various roles.

Leadership Lesson 5. Keep rituals. Despite the isolation and injuries, the boys kept up rituals, to provide a sense of normalcy. Every night, one of the boys started the rosary. A few of the boys were agnostic, but they joined in because it provided community and comfort. Even after the worst part of the entire ordeal, an avalanche on day 16 that killed 8 more of their friends and trapped them in a tomb-like environment for three days, they celebrated two birthdays, using a snowball and lit cigarette as a cake.

Leadership Lesson 6. Anchors. Anchors can be described as things we hold on to that give us mental stability and focus. Some boys looked at the moon every night, while shivering in the fuselage, knowing their loved ones were looking at the same moon. For Eduardo Strauch, who traveled to the crash site with us two weeks ago, it was the “Exit” sign on the plane, which oddly still worked and stayed lit at night. Each night he focused on it intensely, to remind himself he would escape. After he was rescued, he brought the Exit sign home with him. And of course, there is the little red shoe, symbolic of the entire event. (But you must read the books or watch the movie to learn its vital importance!)

Leadership Lesson 7. Be flexible with leadership. On the tenth day after the crash, the survivors learned from a transistor radio that the search had been called off. Marcelo, the positional and situational leader up till then, slowly despaired, and gave up his leadership position. His hopes had been dashed. Instead, three cousins—Fito Strauch, Daniel Fernandez and Eduardo Strauch—stepped in as provisional leaders and elders (at age 25, they were the oldest). Leadership became more consensual (group-like) rather than hierarchical.

There are so many more leadership lessons from this one event, 48 years ago. But these are the few that truly stood out during my visit. How many of these apply to bleeding disorders? An event that no one wanted (a plane crash versus a diagnosis). Situational leadership (uninjured versus young parents springing to action). Suffering (crash injuries versus bleeds into joints). Taking action (how to stay warm versus how to protect your child). Community (a group of boys stranded in the Andes versus a family with a bleeding disorder feeling alone). Communications (a small transistor radio versus internet, meetings).

There are so many parallels. Read the books and see for yourself, and be amazed at the human spirit, which has resilience, discipline, hope and faith.

Alive by Piers Paul Read

Alive (1993), movie now on Netflix

I Had to Survive by Robero Canessa

Miracle in the Andes, by Nando Parrado

Out of the Silence by Eduardo Strauch

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