Almost 25 years ago she was told her daughter had a rare disease called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) and not much could be done about it. That did not prevent Martine Rothblatt to look for solutions.
Once she realized no major drug companies wanted to spend hundreds of millions to help save a few thousand people, she decided to be part of the solution. She founded United Therapeutics who created one of the most widely used PAH drugs called Remodulin. She ended up saving her daughter who has since became an adult.
Move forward to 2019 and the very same company, officially through its subsidiary called Lung Biotechnology based out of Silver Spring, MD, is working towards making more lungs available for lung transplantation. The first project is xenotransplantation. That means they are working at developing lungs and other organs suitable for transplant out of pigs.
The long-term goal is for everybody on the waitlist to be able to find the organ that would be the best match for them. We are still years away for this to be technology and ethic ready but there is hope.
In the meantime, they have associated with Mayo Clinic in Florida to develop a lung restauration center. The main focus is a lung perfusion ex vivo (ex vivo means outside the body) machine which can be used up to 22 hours to try to optimize some lungs who may have been discarded otherwise due to concerns about the quality.
This kind of technology already exist but current devices only allow for 4-6 hours max of ex vivo perfusion. During ex vivo lung perfusion physicians are able to give large dose of antibiotics, do some manipulation to try to clear thick secretions and perform bronchoscopies. More and more centers are using this kind of technology but the success is limited by the short window of 4-6 hours.
By their partnership, United Therapeutics with its Lung Biotechnology subsidiary and Mayo Clinic will have for goals of making the impossible happen. It would not be the first time Martine Rothblatt is going against other giants but based on her history, be ready for another breakthrough.