Securing Canada’s crucial plasma supply for immune globulin

Ensuring there’s enough plasma to manufacture into lifesaving Ig to meet the needs of Canadian patients has been a focus and responsibility for Canadian Blood Services since since the organization was created, and remains a constant concern.

Canadian Blood Services is accountable for ensuring a secure supply of plasma for manufacturing into Ig for Canadian patients. This lifesaving drug is used to treat immunodeficiency disorders, autoimmune disorders, hematological disorders and neurological disorders.

Today, we collect only enough plasma to manufacture about 15 per cent of the Ig products used by Canadian patients. We buy the remaining 85 per cent of the finished product patients need from the global, commercial market — essentially from the U.S. plasma industry.

There is a considerable gap between the volume of plasma we need to manufacture into Ig and the volume of plasma we collect today. We rely too heavily on a foreign supply of plasma to meet the Ig needs of patients in Canada. This degree of reliance is not only unsustainable, it puts patients at risk.

Federal expert panel on plasma

Canadian Blood Services has, over the past few years, alerted federal, provincial and territorial governments to these emerging risks to the security of the plasma supply for Ig. In response to this call, Health Canada, in 2017, established an expert panel to review and report on Ig supply and related issues for the country.

In May 2018, Health Canada published the Final Report of the Expert Panel on Immune Globulin Product Supply and Related Impacts in Canada: Protecting Access to Immune Globulins for Canadians.

The expert panel’s report is an important addition to the ongoing dialogue about the domestic plasma supply for Ig in Canada. The panel made three critical observations:

  • Security of the plasma supply for Ig is a critical public health-care issue for Canada.
  • Demand for plasma will continue to increase, and Canada must reduce its reliance on a foreign market for Ig.
  • Canada must collect more plasma. Canadian Blood Services’ plan to increase plasma collection is an appropriate response.

The report also calls out the need for better Ig utilization management in Canada to address demand, recognizing utilization alone will not solve the sufficiency problem. Canada’s blood operators must also collect more plasma.

An important topic about which we have expressed concern about is the issue of commercial plasma collectors competing for the same donors and “crowding out” the voluntary, non-remunerated blood sector. The report notes that this issue requires ongoing oversight, monitoring and vigilance.

Our way forward

In collaboration with governments in Canada, we are planning to launch proof-of-concept plasma collection sites, which will help us to develop and fine-tune the processes and operating model we’ll need to start collecting significantly more plasma for Ig. In the meantime, we are also looking at how best we can ramp up the amount of plasma we collect within our existing network of sites.

Significantly increasing the volume of source plasma we collect for Ig is the right thing for us to do to meet patient needs in this country. Along the way, we will leverage the expertise and advice of those with significant experience in large-scale source plasma collections to help us get there.