In 2000 Pharming started with the building of the factory in Geel, Belgium. This plant later was bought by Genzyme and now Myozyme in the 4000 Liter bioreactor is being produced. So in the end our treatment was being produced there after all.
However who would think that everyone was happy with these developments, is mistaken. The animal welfare organisations were criticizing the use of animals for medicines. For Pompe patients in the Netherlands it was quite shocking to hear this. For us the development of the production of ERT in rabbits was the only chance we got and then animal welfare organisations and animal right activists were opposed to it? Did they really prefer the life of rabbits over the life of human babies?
Greenpeace too was opposed to this development. I knew they were opposed to biotechnology anyway as their billboard posters showing their opposition of this technology had hung everyone in Leiden. Although at that time Pompe disease, wasn’t in the picture yet. At a debate on animals and biotechnology in the Dutch parliament, my father and I too were present. I just wanted to show everyone that I was serious and would fight to secure treatment for Pompe patients.
During the break of the debate, a lady came up to me and my father while we were having coffee. She introduced herself and said she was working for Greenpeace. I was honestly a bit shocked and thought by myself well here it is, now I need to use all my arguments to make clear why I am in favour of human babies instead of rabbits. Then however the lady of Greenpeace continued saying: ‘Greenpeace still is opposed to medical treatments produced in animals, but when it comes to treatments for diseases for which no other treatment yet exists and for which animals are the only solution, we will make an exception. Then we will not oppose it. I just want you to know about this’. I was relieved. I didn’t need to go into discussion with Greenpeace. They too cared for human babies who otherwise would die. The fight however wasn’t over yet.
On a normal day I was sitting behind my computer I suddenly heard a commercial on the radio. A voice was telling about a little boy who did love rabbits, but these rabbits were misused to get a treatment for Pompe disease, while another production method without animals also could be done. Listeners who also were opposed to this misuse of animals could donate money to the foundation against animal lab testing (Proefdiervrij). When I heard this I was shocked. What other production method was available? At that moment the transgenic rabbits were the only ones and 7 people were successfully treated with this. How could they say such a thing?
Animal rights lies. The Pompe community fights for the truth - and not for the last time.
I immediately called the VSN. They too heard the commercial that meanwhile had been repeated several times on several radio stations already. This foundation also had a big advertisement in one of the national newspapers in the Netherlands, giving the same statement. In that advertisement a boy of about 6 years old was shown among rabbits hopping around in his room. The advertisement text stated this boy too had Pompe disease, but was opposed to using rabbits. Even a non medical professional with knowledge on Pompe disease could see in a moment, this boy absolutely didn’t have Pompe disease. Pompe patients in the Netherlands were upset by this attack and the VSN decided to appeal at the regulatory authority to forbid this type of incorrect advertisement over the backs of Pompe patients. The director of the VSN, Marcel Timmen, and I went together and we won the case by far. The commercial and the advertisements were forbidden per direct.