How scientific advancements and FDA loopholes made plasma a $20B+ business

Between 2000 and 2015, the blood plasma market quadrupled from $5B to more than $20B. Yet the market for blood has dropped from $5B in 2008 to $1.5B. Blood is a mixture of different types of cells, and plasma is its liquid component. So if plasma is part of blood, why is the market for […]

Between 2000 and 2015, the blood plasma market quadrupled from $5B to more than $20B. Yet the market for blood has dropped from $5B in 2008 to $1.5B.

Blood is a mixture of different types of cells, and plasma is its liquid component. So if plasma is part of blood, why is the market for donated plasma booming, while the market for donated blood dies a slow death?

Short answer: Blood can only be donated, but plasma can be sold

Before the ’70s, blood was bought and sold like plasma. Then, a 1971 study found that purchased blood was more likely to be infected with hepatitis. 

In response to the discovery, the FDA mandated that all blood for person-to-person transfusion come from volunteers — and global demand for purchased blood dried up almost instantly.

Later, in the mid-1980s, a process called fractionation made it possible to extract proteins from plasma and use them to develop drugs. Since the FDA ban only applied to fresh blood and not products “used for further manufacturing,” big pharma went off to the races.

When there’s plasma in the water, the sharks aren’t far behind

In donation rooms all across the country, pharmaceutical companies began extracting plasma from people looking for a quick buck. The US quickly became the plasma capital of the world, supplying 70% of the world’s plasma while accounting for a “mere” 40% of global demand.

Why? In the US, individuals can sell plasma 104 times a year, compared to the global norm of 45 — and they can make up to $50 per 90-minute visit. This has incentivized millions of Americans (especially those in low-income communities) to routinely donate.

The whole relationship works out well for pharma companies, who pay $150 for a plasma donation and sell it $500. From 2006 to 2016, plasma donations in the US tripled — and leading players like Octapharma and Grifols have plans to roll out hundreds of new donation centers.

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