An article published at the Brazilian Journal of Cardiovascular Surgery compared all heparins manufactured by Brazilian companies to Liquemine, manufactured by Hoffman La Roche. Heparin is a complex carbohydrate that was introduced to control thrombosis during extra-corporeal surgeries during the 1930s by Clarence Crafoord. It’s been nearly a century and there is no substitute for the drug. No surgeon performs chest surgery without heparin at hand.
Authors of the article, titled Quality control of the heparins available in Brazil: Implications in cardiovascular surgery, concluded that no heparin manufactured in Brazil met the minimum quality control requirements when compared to Liquemine.
There were issues with purification, and contamination with other carbohydrates resulting in inadequate anti-clotting properties. Structural problems were also detected, which resulted in heparins of variable molecular weights – unacceptable, because these properties equally affect the anti-clotting behavior of the drug.
Fortunately, imported heparins are available in Brazil. We attempted to learn more about this scenario and visited a medium size company that commercializes heparin in Brazil (total revenues: US$300 million/year), at the invitation of a friend of the CEO.
Our objective was to improve quality control at the company and boost innovation. We wanted to speak with a company that had four decades of science dedicated to heparin. To our surprise, the Innovation Director asked us if we had their heparin product. Apparently this was key for us to proceed, and since we did not have it, the meeting was aborted prematurely.
This question surprised me, and I later realized I should have said we were not product makers ourselves, but wanted to discuss quality control. Foreign companies dedicate a lot of work by scientists to assure quality control of heparin and drugs in general, but a lack of quality control at Brazilian companies means we cannot compete internationally, or innovate.
But there is hope. At our meeting, the CEO arrived somewhat late. After listening to a short summary by the Innovation Director about heparin, the CEO said, “Even if we cannot collaborate in the area of heparin, please stay in touch. Innovation is key for us – if we don’t innovate, this company will disappear in 10 years.”
I agree. Particularly if that innovation isn’t around creating new drugs.