First blood plasma donations to take place after a 20-year pause

Blood plasma donations for medicine research will take place today in England for the first time in more than 20 years.

The donated plasma will be used to make antibody-based medicines, immunoglobins, for people with rare immune diseases.

The NHS Blood and Transplant team will take donations from 14 donor centres across England, for an initial period of three months.

It’s estimated thousands of patients rely on immunoglobin medicines for short-term or lifelong diseases or genetic disorders.

Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell said: “Today marks a historic occasion, with the first UK patients donating plasma to be used for lifesaving medicines in more than two decades. I am hugely grateful to the exceptional volunteers who will be donating today, as their contributions will eventually make a difference to the lives of so many. I urge all those thinking about donating plasma to absolutely take the plunge – by giving your time, you are ensuring more of these vital medicines can be provided to the patients who need them.”

The donor centres are located in Barnsley, Birmingham, Bolton, Bristol, Chelmsford, Coventry, Croydon, Manchester, Reading, Stockton, Stratford, Tottenham, Twickenham and Wolverhampton.

These donations will prove especially vital to the NHS – as a nationwide shortage of blood plasma has forced the UK to rely mainly on the United States, to donate essential blood plasma.  

Dr Matthew Buckland, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Consultant Immunologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Barts Health NHS Trusts, said: “Plasma products, such as immunoglobulins, are life-saving for patients with conditions that affect the functioning of their immune system.  To make these therapies, we rely on the generosity of donors to provide a supply of plasma. There has been a recent increase in global demand for these products, so this new NHSBT programme to enable people in the UK to donate their plasma is hugely welcome.” 

The 20 years wait on donations is because of a precautionary measure, as fears that blood plasma donation could cause vCJD, this measure was lifted by the Department of Health and Social Care as the independent Commission on Human Medicines advised it was safe and can get underway supported by a strong set of safety measures.

Open recruitment is not available at this time and will start in the near future, as the NHSBT blood donor base will provide the first samples to be donated.