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'Mad cow' ban lifted to allow UK blood plasma to be used for life-saving treatments

Christian Fernsby |
Thousands more critically ill patients will soon be able to benefit from life-saving treatments made from UK-sourced blood plasma, as the government lifts a decades-old ban on donations of plasma in the UK being used to manufacture some medicines.

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The medicines, known as immunoglobulins, are manufactured from blood plasma donated by the public and are used to treat several serious diseases and conditions, such as for those with severely reduced immune systems due to long-term cancer treatment or people with antibody deficiencies.

By lifting the ban in England, the government can start to use plasma donations from UK blood donors to manufacture these life-saving medicines for NHS patients.

The ban was introduced in 1998 in response to concerns over the spread of a human variant of BSE, known as ‘mad cow’s disease’, called Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease. Experts in medicine safety at the independent Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) have now advised the use of UK-sourced plasma to manufacture these treatments is safe and can recommence supported by a set of robust safety measures.

Health Minister Lord Bethell said: "Following expert advice, I am pleased we are now able to lift this ban to help thousands of NHS patients access these potentially life-saving treatments as quickly as possible. The move will also help England become self-sufficient and we will not have to rely only on imports from other countries, ensuring every NHS patient can always access the treatments they need."

Convalescent plasma is currently being trialled in the UK for the treatment of COVID-19 and, if the results are positive, this would mean immunoglobulins from plasma donated in the UK could in future be used as immunoglobulins to treat coronavirus patients.

Up until now, the UK has depended on imports of blood plasma from other countries – mainly the US – to manufacture these treatments. Due to a large rise in global demand for immunoglobulins, both plasma and these treatments have experienced ongoing pressures on supply in the UK and around the world in recent years. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has also meant a significant drop in plasma donations from the US, further increasing pressures on supply.

The lifting of the ban will bolster the supply chain and improve the self-sufficiency of the UK in producing its own treatments. The government will also introduce a new condition to ensure UK plasma is used first for UK patients and not exported to meet contracts elsewhere.

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