CSL sees dip in plasma as blood donors stay home

CSL sees dip in plasma as blood donors stay home

The largest listed company on the ASX is a world leader in plasma therapies - a business that depends on the supply of blood from donors worldwide.

But Melbourne-headquartered CSL (ASX: CSL) has seen a drop-off in blood donations over the past six weeks as people stay at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The situation exacerbates an already tight supply of immunoglobins, or antibodies that come from plasma cells, that was present well before the virus outbreak.

CSL CEO Paul Perreault (pictured) says the company has enough plasma to supply its needs through this year and the circumstances are unlikely to impact FY20 results, but FY21 on the other hand is uncertain.

"That doesn't mean there won't be any impact to next year's numbers. I think it'll be a bit bumpy as time goes on because we just don't know yet," Perreault said in a webcast this morning. 

"In the month of March we started to see a dip in collections. We were still above collections from last year, but over the last two weeks we've seen a dip again, where collections have dropped below last year's levels for the same month."

The group has opened 32 plasma collection centres so far this financial year and expects to meet its target of opening another eight by the end of June, but that will still depend on resources in cities where launches are planned and how conditions fare at existing centres.

"Investors may recall that plasma collection activity during the global financial crisis of 2008 and there was also a bit of a slowdown," Perreault said.

"And although this is a completely different environment and a different issue, I do expect that we will see our donors return as they're able to feel like they're safe to come out of their homes and come back."

He says CSL's medical facilities have critical infrastructure designations, and it is able to provide staff, donors and key vendors with letters of safe passage so that operations can continue.

"This provides the mobility needed to travel to the centres," he said.

"Importantly, the document also extends to Mexican citizens allowing them to continue to cross the border of the United States and donate.

"This is not a silver bullet however. We still have to make sure that we're increasing our advertising promotional programs, to encourage new donors to come into a centre and donate plasma."

Tackling Covid-19

The company's chief scientific officer Andrew Cuthbertson also used the webcast to discuss the work CSL was doing to tackle Covid-19.

"Vaccines take time but they are very effective in a public health sense. We've chosen to partner with the University of Queensland and CEPI, an international epidemic preparedness organisation," Cuthbertson said.

"That relationship is very strong and we were already working closely to accelerate that program and we are in a position to manufacture at large scale for that program should be successful in clinical development."

But in the meantime, Cuthbertson emphasised another thing the world needed was treatment.

"Emil von Behring won the Nobel Prize in 1901 for describing a hyperimmune therapy for diphtheria, and CSL has the ability to make hyperimmune medicines," he said.

Cuthbertson said the basis of these medicines was to take antibodies from people who have recovered from Covid-19 infections, take the antibodies from their plasma, purify them into a potent medicine, and deliver that medicine to patients and subjects.

"We were very pleased to announce a an alliance in the Northern Hemisphere with Takeda and other plasma product development companies to a focused powerful hyperimmune effort across sites in the Northern Hemisphere.

"We have mounted a similar effort here in Australia with the Australian Red Cross and the Department of Health."

But the issue of hyperimmune therapy, which can be life-saving, is that you need access to convalescent donors.

"While our clinical colleagues around the world are very excited about producing hyperimmune medicine, it is limited to accessing safe convalescent donors who are willing to donate their plasma," he said.

"We very recently announced an exciting collaboration with a company called SAB Therapeutics based in the United States - they have wonderful technology for effectively transplanting the human antibody repertoire into cattle.

"In this case it's possible to vaccinate cattle, [and] harvest their hyperimmune serum which will contain human immunoglobulin."

Perreault added that in addition to increased requests for immunoglobulins recently, demand for influenza vaccines has also been strong as we enter into the vaccination period in the southern hemisphere.

"Covid-19 has also given rise to an increased demand for influenza vaccine, and unlike Covid-19 there is a vaccine available for influenza," he said.

"People are taking the precautionary measures to vaccinate. At the request of the Australian government we will be manufacturing Additional southern hemisphere influenza vaccine doses to meet the increased demand."

Updated at 11:31am AEST on 9 April 2020.


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