By around the 37th week of pregnancy, babies will have developed to the point that they are able to survive outside the womb. Any child born before this point is referred to as premature. Thanks to the enormous progress in neonatology (Greek: “the study of newborns”), which is a branch of pediatrics, even premature babies now have a good chance at a healthy life. And yet the beginning is still a challenge for the very littlest patients: their survival often depends on how well developed their lungs are.
Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)
For more than 25 years, one of our drugs has been an essential component in the initial care of premature babies suffering from respiratory distress syndrome. This means that we have been able to help more than 3,7 million children around the world. Untreated IRDS is one of the most common causes of death for premature babies. The root cause of this complex disorder is immaturity of the lungs. Before the 34th week of pregnancy, babies do not produce enough surfactant. This English neologism (surface active agent) refers to a special surface-active substance in the lungs that lines the alveoli. Surfactant makes it easier to breathe in on each inspiration and stops the air sacs collapsing in on themselves on expiration. Chiesi has developed a natural surfactant compound that is introduced into the premature baby’s lungs and decreases the effort it takes for them to breathe.
Primary apnea of prematurity
Life-threating event such as primary apnea (incapacity to spontaneous breathing), is sadly more common the more immature the premature baby. Many milder cases can be treated with respiratory support. If this is not successful the next step is a caffeine – containing medication that stimulates the breathing center.
Chiesi has set itself the goal of helping our smallest patients along their challenging journey into life. We are working on multiple research projects to develop alternative treatments for premature babies, for example, to counteract brain injuries and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (one of the most common chronic lung disorders among premature babies) in future.