Blood transfusions have become a mainstay of modern medical practice but there are problems worldwide in maintaining adequacy of supply. There is a real demand for a new source of red blood cell supplies.
The demand for blood products in developed countries is set to grow, due to aging populations and the increase in chronic and degenerative diseases. Furthermore, in many developing countries there is no blood supply at all and there are serious issues with the transmission of infections.
In the UK alone, more than two million units of blood are used each year – costing around £140 per unit and accounting for a significant proportion of the NHS budget.
A market for cultured blood cells could therefore be worth up to £308 million annually in the UK, and more than £11.2 billion worldwide, based on an estimated use of 80 million units.
Our process of generating red blood cells from pluripotent stem cells has been specifically designed to be translated into a clinical product, with the ability to be scaled up. It has evolved with the imperative of commercial viability and this will be further refined with a cost of goods sold pricing target once the product is ready to be marketed.
The project incorporates the patenting of discoveries and processes. To date, we have filed a number of patent applications for technologies related to the production of red blood cells including culture protocols, pro-survival compounds and genome engineering technologies that can be used to optimise cell proliferation, differentiation and maturation (Publications).
Our work has received £12 million of investment to date but full clinical trials will involve substantial investment beyond funding levels available through standard grant awarding bodies.
Together with the intellectual property being built up within the project, we are developing a business plan, with the ultimate vision of making this a commercial enterprise in the future. One of our key priorities will be to seek further investment to run additional clinical trials and scale up red blood cell production.