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Waterloo company making blood during pandemic
KITCHENER -- A Waterloo company who uses technology to make blood says the donation system is unsustainable during a time when it’s needed more than ever.
Membio CEO Shane Kilpatrick spoke with CTV Kitchener’s Alexandra Pinto to talk about how in demand blood donations are during the COVID-19 pandemic and how their operations might be able to help.
Please note: Membio says it is currently in the development phase and does not have any blood products approved by regulatory bodies or currently available for sale.
Alexandra Pinto: Where did you get the idea to make blood?
Shane Kilpatrick: We had developed a technology that allowed us to efficiently produce cells, and when we were looking to apply that technology, blood became the obvious choice. I’m personally motivated by solving really big problems through business. When you look at what blood is used for, whether that’s cancer, trauma, or major surgeries, and that in the best of times the blood supply is 12 days, but regularly dropping below two days in times of low donor turnout, it really became a natural problem for this technology to be used for.
AP: So in layman’s terms, how do you actually make blood?
SK: We make blood using a combination of our DualFusion manufacturing technology along with specialized cell lines. Through genetic engineering, we can actually control when these cells divide, grow, and switch over to becoming red blood cells. We grow them to a high density in our bioreactors and then trigger the switch. This causes the cells to then transform into red blood cells and eject their nucleus with all the genetic materials we produce.
AP: Is this just like regular blood that’s inside you or myself?
SK: In terms of function, yes. We manufacture blood with two key differences than the blood that’s sourced from the donation system. The first one being that all the blood is the same type. What we are producing is actually better than the universal donor ‘O-negative’. What this means is it’s more compatible with a larger number of patients, including those who require recurring transfusions.
The second advantage is red blood cells have a life span of 120 days. When you receive a transfusion you have no idea how close those cells are to their expiration date. Our neo blood cells are all newly formed, meaning they last longer in patients, reducing how frequently some require transfusions.
AP: Taking a look at your business model, Canada Blood Services does not pay for the blood that is donated. Presumably, hospitals would have to pay for your blood. How does your company compete with, essentially, a free product being supplied by another organization?
SK: This is a common misconception about the blood supply system. You’re absolutely right that donor blood is provided free from the donor, however, what this blood represents is just an input into a fairly complex process that incurs costs at different points. After that blood comes in, there are costs associated with doing the collection, processing that blood, doing all the testing, and then distributing it where it’s needed most.
In contrast by manufacturing blood, not only can we provide an uninterrupted supply, we eliminate costs with donor recruitment, collection, testing, and whole blood processing. This allows us to provide a cost-competitive alternative to donated blood.