A private company that had been trying to open three plasma clinics in Ontario is giving up and leaving the province, saying the Liberal government's determination to ban compensation for plasma donors has forced it to look elsewhere for a home.
The chief executive officer of Canadian Plasma Resources says his company is in talks with "more than one" province in Western Canada, and he hopes to announce firm plans to move his fledgling company soon.
Canadian Plasma Resources had been working for more than two years to open two locations in Toronto and one in Hamilton. Donors would have been paid in retail gift cards for their plasma, a blood product that in this case would have been sold to manufacturers abroad for use in biological medications such as albumins to treat burn victims and immunoglobulins to counter immune disorders.
But as one of the Toronto plasma clinics prepared to open earlier this year, former health minister Deb Matthews introduced legislation prohibiting compensation for blood and plasma donors.
The new Health Minister, Eric Hoskins, reintroduced the bill this summer. "This government feels it's extremely important to put in place legislation that safeguards the integrity of the voluntary system that exists and has existed for so long in this province," Dr. Hoskins said in an interview Monday. "It's a bit of a slippery slope once you start offering people compensation for donating."
That led Barzin Bahardoust, the CEO of Canadian Plasma Resources, to conclude he is better off moving elsewhere.
"This government, unfortunately, is not interested [in] the economic-development aspect, the job-creation aspect and the opportunities that exist," he said. "On the other hand, many of the other Canadian provinces we have been talking to do understand that we need to get these products from somewhere anyway. Even if ideologically we prefer to get all of our plasma from volunteer donors [who] are not compensated, in reality that's not possible." Mr. Bahardoust declined to specify where he plans to move his company. He said he would consider trying to keep one or two of his Ontario locations open to collect plasma strictly for research purposes, if possible.
He opened one of his Toronto locations from March to September to collect plasma for research purposes, primarily as a means to earn a licence from Health Canada, which inspects places like Canadian Plasma Resources's for safety only.
During that time, 125 people applied to donate, 59 of whom met the health and safety requirements to do so. Some donated more than once.
Mr. Bahardoust said his business is expecting a licence soon, something Health Canada was not able to confirm on short notice Monday.
If the Ontario legislation passes as expected, Canada's largest province will become just the second to ban payments for blood and plasma, as was recommended by the 1997 Krever Commission report into the tainted-blood scandal. Quebec is the only province where it is illegal to pay for blood and blood products.
Although such payments are allowed elsewhere in Canada, they are exceedingly rare. No clinics currently pay for whole blood and just one, in Winnipeg, pays for plasma.
Canadian Plasma Resources has no intention of collecting fresh plasma for use in transfusions, Mr. Bahardoust said. (Collections of that kind are, like blood collection, voluntary and co-ordinated by Canadian Blood Services.)
The company plans to pay donors in gift cards for plasma that would be turned into biological medications.
Canada's voluntary donation system does not produce nearly enough plasma to meet this country's need for plasma-derived medications.
Canadian Blood Services, which buys in bulk all the plasma-derived medications for Canadian hospitals outside Quebec, already purchases more than 70 per cent of its supply of immunoglobulins from U.S. companies that pay donors.
Canadian Blood Services and the Canadian Hemophilia Society both say the practice is safe and has not undermined the voluntary blood-and-plasma donation regime south of the border.