Newsletter - April 2015


NHS partners with Precious Cells Miracle to expand parent access to cord blood banking options

Husein K. Salem, BSc PhD

Husein K. Salem, BSc PhD, Founder and CEO, Precious Cells Group

Stem cell therapy has the ability to revolutionise how we treat debilitating and life threatening illnesses. Despite the potency and potential of stem cells in cord blood, millions of litres of cord blood are discarded in the UK on a daily basis. This happens due to under resourced hospitals and low levels of awareness amongst healthcare professionals and parents-to-be. Wasting this resource has had a significant impact on the development of stem cell therapies in the UK and consequently the number of lives that can be saved.

For too long the UK has lagged behind the rest of Europe in cord blood stem cell collection and the development of stem cell technologies. The UK Stem Cell Strategic Forum recently advised the NHS that the UK requires a public inventory of at least 50,000 cord blood units in order to treat those suffering from illnesses including blood cancer, sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia. If this target were met it is estimated that 80% of patients could find a donor match on the registry. In a country where 400 people each year miss out on treatment because of a lack of suitable donors, it is imperative that this serious issue be addressed, and these lives saved.

Patient choice is at the heart of the Precious Cells Group (PCG) ethos. In September 2014, PCG established the pioneering charity Precious Cells Miracle: Community Cord Blood Registry ("the Charity"), with the aim of setting up an ethnically diverse public cord blood registry.

The aspirations of the Charity are simple: to make cord blood stem cell transplants accessible to everyone who needs them and ensure that samples can be provided at zero cost to the NHS. Dr. Neil Counihan, Chief Executive Officer for the Charity, is passionate about the impact these services will have on public health. He is calling on the British public to back the financial efforts of the Charity and also encouraging more mothers-to-be to donate their baby's cord blood.

In order to achieve this, the Charity will partner with NHS Trust hospitals around the UK to facilitate the daily and routine collection of cord blood stem cells from mothers that choose to deliver in those hospitals. This is the first time that the NHS has partnered with a charitable organisation that offers parents-to-be the option of either donating to the public bank or storing their stem cells privately.

Precious Cells Miracle partnership with Croydon NHS Trust

The Charity's first hospital partnership was with Croydon Health Services NHS Trust. The Charity provides the infrastructure, systems and processes to extract and store stem cells from mothers delivering at Croydon. The cord blood collection services do not require any financial commitment or expenditure from the Trust's own budget. In fact, the partnership demonstrates a fiscal addition to the hospital's operational budget. Additionally, because the Charity supports the hospital's obstetric care team in non-obstetric duties, midwives and doctors have more time to focus on patient care.

The Charity aims to provide education on the benefits of stem cell storage to expectant parents in antenatal classes and scientific training to healthcare professionals such as midwives and doctors, which counts towards their Continuing Professional Development.

We are also working with a growing network of local community-based GPs and medical drop-in centres in a campaign to educate the wider community about the benefits of cord donation. Since the partnership in Croydon was launched, the hospital has seen a 65% consent rate for families wanting to store (either public or private) their cord blood through the program. This rate continues to grow as awareness is raised.

Following the success of our partnership with Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, Precious Cells Miracle has now entered into partnerships with several further trusts spread across the UK. The public/private collaboration between the NHS Trust and Precious Cells Miracle illustrates the growing perception that cord blood stem cell storage is a valuable medical provision which should be offered to all expectant parents.

Every day the restorative power of stem cells leads to further profound medical developments, yet in 2013 about 688,000 cord blood units were discarded in maternity wards across England and Wales. This, combined with the fact that only a handful of NHS Trusts currently have the facilities to offer stem cell donation, demonstrates an urgent need to put the facilities in place to build a strong, viable public stem cell network. Our partnerships with NHS Trusts make a strong contribution to this process. These advances not only validate Precious Cells Group as leader in its field, but will significantly contribute to the national target of 50,000 cord blood donations for the public.

Precious Cells Group Dr. Husein K. Salem is a molecular biologist who has published research on the development of gene therapy and stem cell therapy solutions for cardiovascular, renal, and neurological disorders. He is also a serial high tech entrepreneur who is the Founder and Group CEO of Precious Cells Group: a private med-tech company founded in 2008, with core business operations serving the UK, Europe, Middle East and Asian markets. Precious Cells Group has head offices in London and its R&D cell manufacturing facilities are in Glasgow. The company is revenue generating through its portfolio of direct-to-consumer cell banking platform technologies including cord blood banking and adult peripheral blood stem cell banking. Precious Cells Group holds exclusive corporate contract partnerships with multiple NHS trusts for the provision of services related to recruiting donors and banking stem cells.


Public, Private, and Cross-Over from Private to Public

image courtesy of Wikipedia: Autonomous Communities in Spain

Alfonso Sánchez Córcoles, MBA, Director Gerente IVIDA

Spain is a "funny" country from the private cord blood banking perspective, let me explain: Spain has a decentralised health system comprising 19 regions (Autonomous Communities), that each regulates their own hospitals. Some regions are as small as a city, for example Ceuta or Melilla. Each region has its own health competence or "ministry" that operates its own accreditation system. It is probably difficult to understand that a country with a size in square meters between Florida and Texas has such a complicated health structure. This political organisation comes down from the cultural and political idiosyncrasy in Spain. So having explained that let me explain the legal status of private cord blood banking in Spain.

IVIDA Cord blood regulations in Spain

Currently, the national legislation which comprises how we do private cord blood banking in Spain is the Real Decreto-Ley (Order in Council) 9/2014 dating from 4 July 20141. This regulation is an adaptation of the European Union (EU) Directive 2004/23 regulating human cells and tissues that was passed by the European Parliament and Council in March 2004. The EU subsequently passed Directive 2006/17 on 8 Feb. 2006 and the Directive 2006/86 on 24 Oct. 2006 to enforce the technical requirements of the original directive.

Cord blood regulations in Spain started back in 2006 (Royal Decree 1301/2016 of 10 Nov.) and are basically the same as the EU. While this regulation applies to all Health Regions in Spain, the various health competences within each region may apply and interpret the rules without interference from the national Ministry of Health.

To summarize cord blood regulations in Spain:

  1. The European Union establishes a common position on a given area.
  2. The EU member countries then decide how to enforce the EU position. In Spain the EU position has been adopted as the current rules.
  3. In Spain, the independent Health Regions can do the following:
    • * Increase (never decrease) the scope of the regulation
    • * Do nothing and use the National Law

IVIDA Cord blood facilities in Spain

Our legislation discriminates between a "Collection Centre" and a "Tissue Bank", each having different ways of getting their accreditation in their own health region.

In Spain there are 7 public cord blood banks and also 213 hospitals, both public and private, that are accredited for public donation2. There are 2 private cord blood banks in Spain with full licenses for processing and storage (IVIDA and VidaCord) and another 2 with just the processing authorisation (Sevibe Cells and Stem Cell S.A.).

So the reader may ask: is it possible for Spanish families to collect and store their cord blood privately? The answer is: it depends.

IVIDA Cord blood storage in Spain is never fully private

Let's go again into basic aspects of our "funny" situation. IVIDA is a private cord blood bank that has a full license, so in theory families could form a contract with IVIDA to store their child's cord blood. But this has some limitations.

Under the national regulations of Spain, any cord blood unit banked within our country must submit to compulsory declaration of the HLA (human leukocyte antibody) type on an international registry. Hence, every cord blood unit stored in Spain is listed on the international registry as a potential public unit in case it matches a patient in need.

Hence, fully private banking is not an option in Spain. To accommodate those families who wish to store privately, all the cord blood banks working in Spain offer final storage facilities in another country where private cord blood banking is allowed. For this reason IVIDA has a second facility in Portugal.

Regarding the question on whether is it possible for Spanish families to collect and store their cord blood privately, let's go to collection.

IVIDA Cord blood collection in Spain - theory versus practice

In theory, under the national law, the only requirement for families to have their child's cord blood collected is for a signed agreement to be in place between the "collection centre" and the "tissue bank". Such an agreement would specify the preparation of the collection kits, the kit custody within the hospitals, the ability to trace the kit as it is transported, etc.

But out of the 19 autonomous health regions in Spain, there are only 4 in which collection of cord blood for private storage is allowed. In those regions collections may take place in either a public or private hospital that is accredited as a "collection centre".

In the remaining 13 health regions, private cord blood banking is prohibited in public hospitals, either because there are no specific regional regulations regarding private cord blood collection, or it is not allowed without official explanations to the banks or to the families. This is a bit strange since there are many hospitals within these regions which are accredited as "collection centres". But families in these regions cannot get their child's cord blood collected for a private bank because their health authorities deny or even ban private banking, although theoretically, the only bureaucratic issue is to have an agreement signed between the cord blood bank and the hospital..

IVIDA storage tank in Lisbon facility

IVIDA Our cross-over from private storage to public release

IVIDA sends more than 99% of the cord blood we collect for client families to our facility in Lisbon (Portugal), for private-only storage. Yet we have a number of cord blood units which are stored privately in Spain, and therefore available to the Spanish Transplant Organisation.

In April 2014 we received a request from the national registry in Colombia to confirm the test results for one of the private cord blood units stored in our facility in Madrid. The unit had been banked by a Spanish family in Feb. 2013 and was an HLA match for a patient in Colombia who needed a stem cell transplant for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

When we told the parents that their child's cord blood had been requested for a patient, instead of deciding to send this unit straight away to Lisbon (which was their legal right in the contract), they still decided to donate the unit to this sick person.

After we provided the quality report on the unit (identification, id registry, HLA type, demographic information, processing information, processing results and maternal blood testing for infectious disease markers), the unit was formally requested and was sent to Colombia in May 2014. The patient received the cord blood transplant in July.

This was our first experience where a private cord blood unit was requested for a patient and made the cross-over to be released as a public unit. IVIDA decided to reimburse the family on all their expenses. IVIDA performed and paid for all the testing that was required to release the unit. It is important to highlight that at IVIDA we routinely do these tests with all the samples, except for the confirmatory HLA typing which only takes place if there is a request to release a unit for therapy.

IVIDA Conclusions & future plans

So this story shows you why we claim that the situation of the cord blood industry in Spain is a bit "funny". There are private banks in Spain, like IVIDA, but even though we have invested in facilities within the country, we had to invest outside Spain to be able to have the cord blood units of our families privately held. Moreover, in some regions we can operate normally, with the control and acquiescence of the Regional Health Authorities (both public and private Hospitals) while in other regions our activity is either non-regulated or even banned! IVIDA together with other cord blood banks in Spain are working together to try to develop a standard legal practice across our Health Regions.

  1. Real Decreto-Ley 9/2014
  2. National Transplant Organisation, ONT

IVIDA IVIDA belongs to IVI, the private world leader of reproductive medicine. IVIDA collects, processes, cryopreserves and stores the stem cells of umbilical cord blood and tissue for the treatment of different diseases such as lymphomas, leukemia or other hematological disorders, with the guarantee that it will be managed completely by employees of the company (in our own facilities), therefore assuring the traceability and complete control of the whole process. IVIDA started to operate in the Spanish market back in 2010 and has its own facilities in Madrid (Spain) and in Lisbon (Portugal). In case you want to contact us, please email