The individual pandemic

Just saying the word ‘pandemic’ causes alarm. It somehow evokes the blight and misfortune of the medieval plagues. The combination of a large number of people being affected and a high death rate leads, on the one hand, to social panic and, on the other, to the mobilization of all available tools to tackle it, with no haggling over resources.

We have talk of pandemics caused by new types of influenza, by AIDS, and even by Alzheimer's disease, which is becoming constantly more prevalent and now affects tens of millions. The media, of course, jumps on any news that hints at a pandemic.

I invite you to carry out the exercise of going from the whole to the part, from the ocean to the drop of water, from the endangered masses to the affected patient. To the person. We will see that there are other pandemics. Silent pandemics, in which the impact on the individuals and their surrounding bears no relation to their ability to reach the front page.

A small miscalculation diving into a swimming pool is enough to dramatically and permanently change the life of a 20-year-old. And that of their family. And that of their social environment. And that of society as a whole. Spinal cord injury is, according to all the studies, the disease that creates the greatest social and economic impact for each individual affected.

The wheelchair is the first dreaded symbol that scares families. But it is far from the worst. I was told by a doctor who has dedicated his life to the care of these patients that we all use aids to movement: taking the plane, the car, the escalator or the elevator. A patient with a spinal cord injury 'just' needs one more, the wheelchair, and perhaps in the future, the exoskeleton.

The real problem is everything else: the dependence, the lack of sphincter control, the affected sex life, the inability to clean yourself, the lack of touch and feeling, the problems of assimilating into the workplace. A quadriplegic discovers that they can never hug.

If you’ll pardon the oxymoron, severe spinal cord injury is an individual pandemic.

Every year, one hundred and thirty thousand people worldwide have accidents that cause spinal cord injuries. There is no pharmacological treatment for them. Think of a city with 130,000 inhabitants. And add another one every year.

You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of institutions or research groups anywhere in the world that are conducting regulated clinical trials into acute spinal injuries with new drugs. Ferrer is one of them. May we all succeed! We have complementary approaches that will be easily combined for the benefit of the patient.

In Ferrer we believe that the application of a special population of adult stem cells directly to the affected spinal cord in the first hours after injury can prevent the death of motor neurons and other cells. It is this death that causes the irreversibility of the injury.

Results in preclinical models have confirmed our initial hypothesis and now we are starting a patient trial in three hospitals with specialist spinal cord injury units. We thank them for their generous and enthusiastic support. Let’s hope that together we can start to bring this individual pandemic under control.

Andrés Fernández's picture
Andrés G. Fernández
Director Advanced Biotherapeutics