Writing at Maclean’s, Anne Kingston has an interesting column up about the application by Canadian Plasma Resources to begin paying for blood plasma donations at two locations in Ontario. Currently Ontario, like most of Canada, doesn’t allow any such payments, but support for such a change may be growing. At the very least, the federal government (unlike most provincial governments) hasn’t explicitly denounced the idea.
From the article:
Canadian Plasma Resources isn’t the first entrant to the pay-for-plasma market; Winnipeg’s Cangene Plasma has been paying for plasma for decades. But it’s proving to be a game changer that’s exposing public interests, political expediency and marketplace realities. Eighty per cent of plasma products used in this country are already produced from paid-for plasma in the U.S. So the real question is: what are the consequences to the Canadian blood system and public health care if Canadian donors are paid for plasma?
The question of blood-system safety remains a flashpoint in Canada, two decades after the “tainted blood” scandal of the late ’80s and early ’90s. More than 20,000 Canadians became infected with HIV and hepatitis C due to improperly screened blood and plasma from paid donors in Haiti and American skid rows. The tragedy led to the creation of Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec in 1998, set up to rebuild and oversee the blood system. It also resulted in the Krever commission, which recommended blood donors “should not be paid for their donations, except in rare circumstances.” The World Health Organization agrees: it wants all countries to move to unpaid donation systems by 2020 due to studies pointing to volunteers having the lowest prevalence of blood-borne infections.
But the high demand for plasma is bridging the public and private realms: the viscous, yellow liquid is used both in transfusions and as a raw material for a $20-billion biopharmaceutical sector growing at 10 per cent a year. Fractionation technology separates plasma proteins into life-saving therapies—albumin to treat burns, clotting factor for bleeding disorders and intravenous immunoglobulin (IvIG) for infections and immune disorders. The market for IvIG, in particular, is booming, with Canada one of the highest per capita users. If current clinical trials using IvIG to treat Alzheimer’s are successful, it could result in a new market worth $7.2 billion in the U.S. alone by 2017, Bloomberg News recently reported.
There’s clearly a lot of baggage around blood donations in Canada. And it’s interesting that we currently use a lot of pay-for-plasma services – just none of the blood that’s used in donations comes from such sources. So, what do you think, should Canada allow more cash-for-blood companies to operate? Should that blood be used both for product development as well as for blood transfusions?