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The Canadian Plasma Clinic at 82 Adelaide St. E in Toronto.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Spanish pharmaceutical firm Grifols SA GIFLF says it will acquire the last remaining Canadian-owned private blood-plasma-collection centres in order to fulfill a contract it signed with Canadian Blood Services last year, giving the company a monopoly over the paid-plasma industry in Canada.

Grifols said Thursday it reached an agreement to buy plasma donated at Canadian Plasma Resources locations. CPR operates seven collection centres in four provinces, with two more sites on the way. Grifols said it intends to acquire the centres themselves by the end of 2025. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The company also said it would build six of its own collection centres and it is exploring locations in Ontario. Paid blood and plasma collection is banned in Ontario, but Grifols said it believed its partnership with Canadian Blood Services allowed it to circumvent the ban.

The move cements the publicly traded company’s position as a key part of Canada’s blood system. Grifols has long sold medical products to Canadian Blood Services that are made from plasma, a straw-coloured, protein-rich fluid found in blood.

The firm has also acted as a paid consultant to Canadian Blood Services in recent years on how to collect plasma, and signed a 15-year agreement with the blood agency last fall to collect plasma together. Grifols bought a manufacturing facility in Montreal in 2020, and the only other private plasma-collection centre in Canada – a site in Winnipeg once owned by Cangene – in 2022.

Canadian Blood Services, a national non-profit that is in charge of Canada’s blood supply outside of Quebec, was founded on a principle of not paying blood donors, whereas Grifols and CPR both pay their donors. That difference has made the Canadian Blood Services-Grifols partnership controversial, in that it could steer donors away from the voluntary public-donation system to the ones run by for-profit firms.

Graham Sher, the blood agency’s long-time chief executive officer, hailed the development as the public and private sectors working hand-in-hand. “It also further mitigates Canadian Blood Services’ encroachment concerns by aligning commercial plasma activity to the national blood system via contractual controls,” he said in a statement, referring to a clause of the agreement that allows the agency to veto Grifols locations for 15 years.

Raimon Grifols, chief corporate officer of the Barcelona-based Grifols, said the deal was about securing a stable domestic plasma supply in Canada. “We’re ensuring that all available Canadian plasma output that we obtain remains in Canada and is manufactured into medicines in Canada to support patients in Canada,” he said in a statement.

Canadian Blood Services has never disclosed the financial terms of its agreement with Grifols, although the blood agency spent $782-million – more than half its budget – on plasma and plasma-derived products in 2022. The agency has always declined to buy plasma from CPR directly, though would not answer The Globe’s questions as to why.

Jennifer van Gennip, executive director of the Network of Rare Blood Disorder Organizations, said the deal made sense because most of the plasma Canadians use currently comes from the United States, where donors are paid anyway.

Kat Lanteigne, executive director of advocacy group BloodWatch, said the deal with Grifols is inappropriate because it uses the blood supply as a profit stream for a private company.

Grifols’s entry into Ontario would be unprecedented. The province’s ban on paying blood donors was passed in 2014 when CPR tried to set up in Ontario. The law contains an exemption for Canadian Blood Services to pay donors if it needs to, and the blood agency has argued the exemption should extend to companies it works with, though that has not been tested yet.

B.C. also bans paying blood donors and has explicitly said Grifols is not welcome in the province.

Steven Staples, national director of policy and advocacy at the Canadian Health Coalition, said Ontario needs to follow in B.C.’s footsteps and bar Grifols.

Hannah Jensen, spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones, would only say the province will “continue to monitor the decisions of Canadian Blood Services to ensure it delivers a secure supply of plasma protein products to Ontarians.”

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