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Barzin Bahardoust, CEO of Canadian Plasma Resources.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The leader of the largest private Canadian collector of blood plasma said Canadian Blood Services’ willingness to work with private companies is a step in the right direction for domestic self-sufficiency and opens the door to collecting plasma from paid donors in Ontario, where the practice is currently banned.

Barzin Bahardoust, chief executive officer of Canadian Plasma Resources, or CPR, said his company has been in talks with CBS about its new strategy to boost the amount of plasma collected in Canada.

Plasma is a protein-rich fluid found in blood that is used for transfusion and for manufacturing some lifesaving medications.

CBS told The Globe and Mail last week it was talking to private companies as part of a plan to collect 50 per cent of the plasma it needs within Canada. Domestic donors supply about 15 per cent of CBS’s needs for plasma-derived medication. CBS is building new collection centres around Canada to boost that number to 25 per cent.

Mr. Bahardoust said CBS had rejected previous offers to buy plasma collected from his company. However, CBS does buy medicine from international pharmaceutical companies that is manufactured using plasma collected in Canada by CPR.

Canada is already in the paid plasma business. We just like to pretend we’re not

“We have no direct business with CBS, but we supply two of CBS’s largest suppliers,” Mr. Bahardoust said.

He declined to provide details of his company’s talks with CBS, citing a confidentiality agreement.

However, he said he believed that media reports about which company was poised to win a contract with CBS were accurate.

The Globe reported last week that industry observers tipped Grifols, an international pharmaceutical company based in Spain, as the company most likely to partner with CBS. Grifols has purchased a plasma collection centre in Winnipeg and a manufacturing facility in Montreal in the past two years, and described Canada as a growing market for the company.

One of the controversial elements of CBS’s involvement with private collectors is the business model of those companies, including CPR, which depends on paying donors for their plasma. CBS and Health Canada have said paid plasma is safe, based on medical studies. But critics also say payments will have a detrimental effect on voluntary donations.

Three provinces – Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec – currently ban the practice of paying donors for plasma. CBS is in charge of the blood and plasma donation system in Ontario and B.C., while Quebec has its own agency.

CPR has nine clinics in various stages of operation in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick, with another two clinics in the works. It pays donors for their plasma.

Mr. Bahardoust said he believes that CBS’s plasma strategy could lead to Ontario revisiting its ban, which has an exemption for CBS.

“We are hoping that if things change in Ontario in terms of rules regarding donor compensation, we would expand our operations with somewhere between another 10 to 20 centres in the province of Ontario and a manufacturing facility,” he said.

The Ontario government said it would wait to see what CBS did before making any changes.

“Ontario would review any potential changes to the federal program to determine next steps,” said Stephen Warner, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones.

British Columbia declined to say whether it might revisit its rules in light of CBS’s change in direction.

“We continue to support the important work of Canadian Blood Services,” said Amy Crofts, a spokesperson for the B.C. Health Ministry.

Delphine Denis, a spokesperson for CBS, said the agency did not have any further updates from last week’s statements.

Some advocacy groups and unions have decried CBS’s talks with private companies, and said they are disturbed by the lack of public information that the blood agency has released.

Michèle Brill-Edwards, an Ottawa physician and board member of the Canadian Health Coalition, called the lack of public consultations a “betrayal of trust” and said it could have a chilling effect on the agency’s donor base.

“Nothing will damage voluntary collection of both blood and plasma more than a sudden loss of trust,” Dr. Brill-Edwards said.

However, some patient groups have lobbied in support of CBS, saying they support any measure that increases the availability of plasma. The Network of Rare Blood Disorder Organizations sent a letter to all provincial and territorial health ministers on Tuesday to say that securing a domestic supply of plasma should be CBS’s primary concern.

“It’s responsible for Ontario or any province to look at compensated plasma collection because they’re trying to meet the needs of the patients,” Angela Diano, executive director of one of those rare-blood organizations, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency Canada Inc., said in an interview. Alpha-1 Canada receives some of its funding from pharmaceutical companies, which includes international plasma collector Grifols.

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