Dr. Tore Curstedt, co-inventor of drug Curosurf, used to treat 4 million premature babies, recalls the first premature baby they treated with Curosurf medication in a Swedish hospital:
You were working for more than a decade on the drug in the laboratory, then one day you received a phone call from a doctor who cared for a dying, prematurely born baby, and they asked you to use this drug on a human for the first time, and it was a very dramatic experience. Could you please tell more about that experience of bringing your drug from the bench to the bedside?
– I and my colleague, Bengt Robertson, we were both laboratory doctors. He worked as a pathologist and he worked with in-vitro and in-vivo experiments, and mostly clinical chemists, and I worked with phospholipid isolation and separation. And we started to talk about this, to make the surfactant in 1980. I had my skills in phospholipids and he did in-vitro and in-vivo experiments. And we worked together, and we got a good phospholipid preparation, We tested it in vitro and in in vivo in premature rabbits and it worked very well. And that made one of many rabbit experiments. And then they called us at the site, and said, “We have a little boy, he weighs 785 grams, about that. “He was born in week 27 of pregnancy. We have done everything we can do. He will die in a couple of hours. Do you have any surfactant?” “We know that you work with that, do you have any?” At that time, we had no surfactant, but I had in the tube some purified surfactant and I had it in an organic solution, and I evaporated the organic solvents.
– [Anton] Specifically for that baby?
– For that baby. And you could not smell any chloroform in that purified form. And Bengt Robertson and I discussed, is it possible for us to give the drug? What will happen if the baby will die? “But we take this chance”, he said. I suspended it in the physiological saline and we said to the boss of the pediatric department, “Give this to the little boy.” And within couple of minutes, they gave the drug into the trachea, and within a couple of minutes, the blue baby became pink and it started at 85% oxygen in the respirator and after one hour, it could breathe room air So this was dramatic change within minutes and in one hour.
– So it was a very dramatic effect. It was a boy born at 27 weeks, weighing just 700 grams, couple of hours from death, being blue. And then you give first time ever, your just-purified surfactant, of course, the chief of the hospital gives, but it is your co-invented drug, with your collaborator Dr. Robertson, and it’s a dramatic change. Within a few minutes, the baby becomes pink, and an hour later can breathe normal air instead of 85% oxygen, which is very dangerous.
– That is an absolutely dramatic effect. How did you feel?
– It’s very difficult to say. It was so dramatic. I’ve never seen something like that in all my life. And I was near tears at that time to see this change in a little, little boy that expected to die in a couple of hours.
– And you observed the boy with your own eyes, sitting next to the clock in the ICU?
– Yes, yes.
– And chief of surgery, chief of the hospital was probably there. Who else was there?
– But you see, at that time, we thought we had good product. But we were laboratory doctors. If we could have this to the rest of the world, we must have a network. We had two, three things that are very important. A good drug is very important. We also said, we must have a network of neonatologists. In Europe, we must have that in all Europe. And we must have the company that can produce this drug in the future. And we must have meetings, research meetings, that continue every year at least. And that we started at that time. And then we must also of course have all permission to give this drug to these premature children.