Melissa Biggs, Fashion Designer and Former Baywatch Actress, Teams with CSL Behring to Raise Awareness of Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a Commonly Misdiagnosed Respiratory Disease
Biggs Named Spokesperson for Education Campaign on Behalf of CSL Behring, maker of Zemaira®, Alpha-1 Proteinase Inhibitor (Human) Augmentation Therapy
King of Prussia, PA — 17 May 2008
Melissa Biggs, a fashion designer and actress who appeared on Baywatch was recently named spokesperson for an education campaign on behalf of CSL Behring, and is urging Americans to get tested for Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency after her own diagnosis with the condition in 2005.
AAT deficiency (AATD), also known as Alpha-1 deficiency, is a serious, hereditary lung disease that results in progressively deteriorating lung function and can shorten life expectancies in patients who have the most severe form of the condition. An estimated 100,000 Americans have Alpha-1 deficiency, which can be easily detected through the administration of a simple blood test. However, because symptoms of this condition, including wheezing and shortness of breath upon exertion, are similar to those of other forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Alpha-1 deficiency is significantly underdiagnosed and undertreated.
In fact, up to 95 percent of people with Alpha-1 deficiency have not been diagnosed or have been misdiagnosed as having another form of COPD. Due to low awareness of the condition, it takes an average of seven to eight years from symptom onset for a patient to be correctly diagnosed with Alpha-1 deficiency.
To help raise awareness of Alpha-1 deficiency among healthcare professionals and the general public, Ms. Biggs will share her experiences and stress the importance of being tested for Alpha-1 at appearances in the U.S. and Canada, beginning with the annual scientific sessions of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) in Toronto on May 18 and 19.
“When I was diagnosed with the disease at age 32, I was traumatized. I immediately became an advocate for early detection of Alpha-1 deficiency," said Melissa Biggs. “The sooner patients get diagnosed, the sooner they can get the medical help they need to live the best life possible.” Because Alpha-1 deficiency is a hereditary disorder, Ms. Biggs encouraged her family to get tested and several relatives discovered that they have the condition as well.
Ms. Biggs began therapy with CSL Behring’s Zemaira, a next-generation Alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor proven to raise and maintain levels of Alpha-1. She also became involved with patient advocacy through CSL Behring. In addition to her work with the company, Ms. Biggs is active in fund raising efforts including recently coordinating and hosting a first annual West Coast charity event on behalf of the Caring Voices Coalition, an organization committed to assisting individuals and families affected by serious chronic disorders and diseases. Ms. Biggs is a member of the board of the Alpha-1 Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the leadership and resources that will result in increased research, improved health among Alphas, improved worldwide detection, and possibly even a cure for Alpha-1.
Today Ms. Biggs continues to act and is president, founder and designer of P.G.D. Style, an exclusive women’s contemporary clothing line. She also manufactures a private label collection for Guess? Inc. A percentage of proceeds from each of her T-shirt sales is donated to help others suffering from Alpha-1 deficiency. In addition to her awareness campaign and clothing line, Melissa is working on a personal and inspirational memoir about her life experiences, with its anticipated release set for sometime in 2009. Her commitment to a healthy lifestyle, coupled with appropriate therapy, has helped her control her Alpha-1 and live a full and productive life.
“The appointment of Ms. Biggs to spearhead our education campaign on AATD reflects CSL Behring’s commitment to raising awareness of this debilitating condition,” said Robert Lefebvre, VP and General Manager, U.S. Commercial Operations. “We strongly encourage testing COPD patients for Alpha-1 deficiency as recommended in the current ATS Guidelines. Knowing the reason for patients’ loss of lung function is key to ensuring they get the appropriate medical treatment and therapy.”
For more information about Melissa Biggs and her experience with Alpha-1 deficiency, visit www.testtodaychangetomorrow.com.
About Alpha-1 Antitrypsin (AAT) Deficiency
People who suffer from Alpha-1 Antitrypsin (AAT) Deficiency, commonly called AATD or Alpha-1, have low levels of Alpha-1 antitrypsin, or A1-PI. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is an anti-inflammatory protein that protects the tissue of the body. One of its most important roles is to shield the delicate tissues of the lungs by binding to neutrophil elastase, an enzyme released by certain white blood cells that digests bacteria and other foreign substances in the lungs. When a person with deficient levels of AAT inhales irritants or contracts a lung infection, the neutrophil elastase released to protect the lungs is uncontrolled and can injure healthy lung tissue. Repeated injury to the normal structure of the lungs can eventually result in emphysema, the most common manifestation of Alpha-1 deficiency. According to a recent registry, emphysema affects 54 percent of diagnosed Alpha-1-deficient patients. Uncontrolled, symptomatic Alpha-1 deficiency can significantly impact everyday life and life expectancy.
Identifying patients with Alpha-1 deficiency can be problematic, however. Because patients with Alpha-1 deficiency typically present with common symptoms, such as shortness of breath on exertion, wheezing, and coughing, the condition is often misdiagnosed as another chronic lung condition. In fact, retrospective studies show that even after an Alpha-1 patient has developed symptoms, it takes an average of seven years and visits to five different healthcare professionals before the correct diagnosis is made. Researchers estimate that 25 million people nationwide may be carriers of the defective gene responsible for Alpha-1 deficiency. Only about 5,000 patients are currently diagnosed with Alpha-1 deficiency, meaning that up to 95 percent of people with the deficiency remain undiagnosed.
Zemaira is a highly-purified form of Alpha-1 Proteinase Inhibitor (A1-PI), the critical, naturally occurring protein that protects lung tissue from breakdown and that protects the lung’s elasticity. Zemaira is augmentation therapy for those symptomatic patients with Alpha-1 deficiency.
Zemaira is indicated for augmentation and maintenance therapy in patients with Alpha-1 deficiency and for patients with clinical evidence of emphysema. Clinical data demonstrating the long-term effects of chronic augmentation therapy with Zemaira are not available.
Zemaira can be administered intravenously at a hospital or infusion center, doctor’s office, or at home. Zemaira has been shown to be safe, effective and generally well tolerated, with less infusion volume and quicker infusion regimen than other Alpha-1 replacement therapies.
Zemaira is derived from human plasma. As with all plasma-derived products, the risk of transmission of infectious agents, including viruses and, theoretically, the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) agent, cannot be completely eliminated.
As with other Alpha-1 therapies, Zemaira may not be appropriate for the following adult individuals as they may experience severe reactions, including anaphylaxis: individuals with a known hypersensitivity and/or history of anaphylaxis or severe systemic reaction to Alpha-1 Proteinase Inhibitor products or their components, and individuals with selective IgA deficiencies who have known antibodies against IgA.
In clinical studies, the following treatment-related adverse reactions were reported in 1% of subjects: asthenia (fatigue), injection-site pain, dizziness, headache, paresthesia (tingling) and pruritus (itching).
About CSL Behring
CSL Behring is the maker of Alpha1-Proteinase Inhibitor (Human), Zemaira. The company is a global leader in the plasma protein biotherapeutics industry. Passionate about improving the quality of patients' lives, CSL Behring manufactures and markets a range of safe and effective plasma-derived and recombinant products and related services. The company's therapies are used in the treatment of immune deficiency disorders, hemophilia, von Willebrand disease, other bleeding disorders and inherited emphysema. Other products are used for the prevention of hemolytic diseases in the newborn, in cardiac surgery, organ transplantation and in the treatment of burns. The company also operates one of the world's largest plasma collection networks, ZLB Plasma. CSL Behring is a subsidiary of CSL Limited, a biopharmaceutical company with headquarters in Melbourne, Australia. For more information, visit www.cslbehring.com.
Sheila A. Burke
Director, Public Relations & Communications
Worldwide Commercial Operations