The first vials of lifesaving treatment produced from previously discarded plasma remnants have rolled off the production line in Germany. They are the result of Project Recovery, the first program of its kind in the world. The program uses previously discarded material from Canadian blood donations left over from the manufacturing of plasma products to make pharmaceutical products used to treat thousands of hemophiliacs in developing countries.

These little vials of treatment are small, but mighty.

“[This treatment] can prevent huge amounts of pain but can also be lifesaving in certain situations,” says David Page, executive director of the Canadian Hemophilia Society. “It can potentially allow for surgery where, without it, surgery would not be possible — not even a tonsillectomy or surgery for appendicitis. So kids who live in countries where this treatment is not available would die.”

Hemophilia affects about 1 in 10,000 people worldwide and nearly 75 per cent of patients receive little or no treatment. Because they lack an essential blood-clotting protein, patients can experience internal bleeding from a seemingly minor injury. Bleeding into joints and muscles causes severe pain and disability, while bleeding into major organs, such as the brain, can cause death.

In Canada, most of the demand for factor VIII, an essential blood-clotting protein used to treat bleeding disorders, is met with product manufactured using recombinant (genetically engineered) technology, not human plasma. The Canadian demand for factor VIII fractionated from human plasma can be met with a small portion of the plasma we send for fractionation each year. Before Project Recovery, the remaining portions of donated plasma were simply discarded.

The Canadian Hemophilia Society initially proposed Project Recovery to put these discarded products to use for patients in developing countries who have little or no access to medicine and who would otherwise be at risk of death or severe disability. The project now includes partnerships with the World Federation of Hemophilia, Canadian Blood Services and two manufacturers of plasma products, Biotest and Grifols. The treatment is being distributed through the WFH Humanitarian Aid Program. Project Recovery is cost-neutral to all parties, and products are supplied free of charge to patients.

“This is truly a win-win all around,” Ian Mumford, Canadian Blood Services’ chief supply chain officer, said in September. “Not only does it help thousands of patients, it allows us to maximize the generous gift our donors roll up their sleeve to give us every day.”

It is estimated that in the first year, five million units of factor VIII will be donated. This will help treat about 5,000 joint hemorrhages, the most common symptom of hemophilia in children and adults.