Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Safeguarding Canada's Blood Products

"We thought this was a good idea and this business was suitable for Canada. Looking back at things, we underestimated some of the history that surrounds blood and plasma in Canada."
"While the majority of our shareholders are proud members of the Iranian Canadian community, including myself, Exa Pharma [the Iranian parent company] and Canadian Plasma Resources do not conduct business in the republic of Iran. Our sole focus is to collect plasma in Canada and manufacture it into products to be sold in the Canadian market to treat Canadian patients."
Barzin Bahardoust, CEO, Canadian Plasma Resources
Blood plasma is the straw-coloured liquid portion of blood traditionally used for transfusions or hemophilia drugs. It can also be processed into immunoglobulin, an intravenous drug for cancer and other diseases. Blood plasma is the straw-coloured liquid portion of blood traditionally used for transfusions or hemophilia drugs. It can also be processed into immunoglobulin, an intravenous drug for cancer and other diseases. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

Mr. Bahardoust went from studying at University of Toronto on an electrical and computer engineering doctorate to becoming an entrepreneur, convinced by an Iranian family deeply involved in pharmaceuticals to alter his career aspirations under their aegis to establish a compensated plasma business. Most blood plasma is sourced within Canada from the United States. Which itself depends on an established network of pay-for-donated-blood clinics. In Canada it is illegal to exchange payment for blood.

Payment given donors of their bodily fluid is a subject that raises questions around the philosophical ethics involved. Blood donors typically volunteer what they are willing to provide, expecting nothing in exchange, and being offered nothing for their generosity but congratulations. This is an altruistic measure dependent on public goodwill to provide Canadians with blood transfusions through the public medicare system in tandem with Canadian Blood Services, a non-profit charitable group.

A mere four percent of the Canadian population invests itself in offering blood when clinics are advertised, asking for a response from the general public. Generally, the same people give, over and over again. And clearly that four percent could not possibly meet the demand that is seen in medical services. Concern has been stated over Canadian Plasma Resources' ties to Iran, as well, since it is an Iranian company that is tied to Canadian Plasma Resources.

When Canada went through a period of self-examination in the safety of blood collection after a scandal of the 1980s when tainted blood transmitted HIV and hepatitis C from donor sources to patients, the Krever Commission, struck to examine the issue after 30,000 Canadians were infected through transfusions and plasma products, conceived primary recommendations addressing the issue of paid products; rejecting not only paying for blood, but also critical of the importation from the U.S. of paid-for blood products.

Plans were to proceed on the part of Canadian Plasma Resources to open clinics in downtown Toronto in 2013. Critics, however, citing safety concerns, accused the company of deliberately selecting locations close to homeless shelters for the purpose of attracting impoverished people to the idea of earning money in exchange for blood. It was the idea of exploitation of the poverty stricken, allied with the fact that indigent people usually suffer poor health, that spurred condemnation.

The uproar that ensued cost the company its initial investment  in securing offices and equipment to set itself up in business in Toronto. It moved instead to Saskatchewan where Mr. Bahardoust and his company were officially welcomed by the province's health minister who stated there were no plans to enact a ban. Canadian Plasma Resources procured a licence from Health Canada to operate a collection clinic in Saskatoon.

The Krever Enquiry in its time made note of what they considered a major factor in the tainted blood scandal; the failure to collect and manufacture sufficient blood and blood products domestically. Even while it recommended against encouraging donations through payment. The scant response to donating blood without compensation  has led to a reliance on American donors, and that donor base includes prisoners, a situation that comes with a higher risk of infection.

The Ontario Hemophilia Society, the World Health Organization and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are listed by Blood Watch, a vocal activist critic group of for-profit clinics as resistant to the practice of paying for donated blood. A safe blood advocate by the name of Kat Lanteigne who experienced a close family friend becoming ill with AIDS after contracting HIV from her hemophiliac husband lobbies the provinces against private, for-profit plasma clinics.

Health Canada states that since the introduction of modern manufacturing processes over 25 years ago, "there has not been a single case of transmission of hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV caused by plasma products in Canada". Derek From with the Canadian Constitution Foundation as a lawyer, donated plasma in exchange for a $45 weekly increase to his income while a student in the United States. "What we're doing right now is we're begging people 'Come in! Donate your time! Donate your fluids! Out of the kindness of your hearts, do this'!"

"And what results do we get? Very poor results. It doesn't work", he concluded. The Federal Court upheld a Canada Border Services Agency decision to deny Ramin Fallah, a shareholder to Canadian Plasma Resources' parent company, Exa Pharma Inc., a work permit. He had been hired by Canadian Plasma Resources in Canada, as an executive. But the CBSA claimed his former employer, Fanavari Azmayeshgahi, "has been identified in open sources and by allied governments as being an entity of (weapons of mass destruction) concern."

Canadian Plasma's business partnership with the German pharmaceutical company Biotest AG, with processing plants in the U.S. and Germany represents yet another suspected link to Iran's nuclear program. Since Biotest is in a joint venture called Bio Daru, with Darou Pakhsh, a pharmaceutical company on a list of Iranian companies which Britain views as being at risk of using exports for weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

Complicated? You bet!

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