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CPR isn’t the first company in Canada to pay for human plasma; Cangene Corporation, a small outfit in Winnipeg, has for decades paid for plasma that contains a rare antibody (it now also collects regular plasma).
But CPR, which reimburses donors for an hour-and-a-half donation via Visa gift certificate (or they can donate that amount to a charity for a tax receipt) was the most ambitious, with plans to expand to other provinces.
Nor had CBS appeared concerned that the for-profit company’s “Give plasma, give life” motto might be confused with CBS’s own “It’s in you to give.” Then in December 2016, CBS announced what those who opposed paid plasma had feared: volunteer blood donation in Saskatoon declined due to CPR’s arrival.
Yet CBS’s concerns didn’t prevent Health Canada from approving CPR’s Moncton collection site in July 2017, effectively setting it up as a competitor with CBS.
Demand for transfusion plasma is declining due to replacement products and new surgical techniques; demand for raw plasma, on the other hand, to be used in the manufacture of plasma protein therapies is booming— it’s the basis of a multi-billion-dollar business driven by demand for Ig, which can run ,000 per treatment.
Encouraged by the Health Canada meeting, Exapharma Inc.
Health Canada, which describes its relationship with CBS as “arm’s length,” worked closely with the blood authority shaping messaging that paved way for CPR’s arrival.
The documents reveal that over years Health Canada worked collaboratively with CPR itself—in one exchange a top Health Canada official asked if CPR planned to announce its Saskatoon facility before or after Health Canada’s inspection, an approval necessary for it to set up business; she later sent “Congratulations! Emails within Health Canada also indicate the agency wanted to phase out reliance on the five-year 1997 royal commission into the “tainted blood scandal” headed by Justice Horace Krever long upheld as a roadmap for blood governance; it warned against compensation for blood products.
Eight months later, in October 2016, Canadian Blood Services, the non-profit independent organization entrusted with managing the nation’s blood supply and blood products (Héma-Québec does the same in that province) sounded an alarm about CPR.The announcement signalled an abrupt, 180-degree turnaround from CBS’s former stance.For years, it appeared on-side with the idea of a blood broker selling a resource harvested in Canada to the highest bidder on the global market.For years, safe-blood activists, led by Blood Watch, and medical groups had opposed CPR, concerned about the commercialization of the country’s blood system.The company first made headlines in 2013 when it was poised to open three collection sites in Ontario—one beside a men’s mission in Toronto, another next to methadone clinic in Hamilton. In December 2014, Ontario passed legislation banning payment for blood, as Québec had done two decades earlier (Health Canada is responsible for the safety of the blood system and approves blood collection facilities; provinces determine whether people can be paid for blood products).
Its Saskatoon operation was impinging on Canada’s plasma self-sufficiency, it announced.