Virgin Health Bank and Cambridge hospitals partnership

Sir Richard Branson has launched an innovative new bank alongside Northern Rock – the Virgin Health Bank – which stores cord blood, the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after a baby has been born and is a rich source of stem cells which can be used for life saving transplants. It will be delivered in partnership with Cambridge University Hospitals and is believed to be the first of its kind between a private cord blood bank and an NHS Foundation Trust.

Cord blood banks have been set up at a number of hospitals around the UK, and I learned of Virgin’s plans for Cambridge from Greer Deal, director of Global Regulatory Services, who attended the latest  London Regenerative Medicine Network meeting where the collaboration was announced earlier this week.

Greer wrote about it on her blog:

“The last speaker was Dr Rajan Jethwa, from the Virgin Health Bank and the common theme during his presentation was the word “free”!  This was actually to support their image of being a “social enterprise”.  It’s strategically clever because to be a social enterprise is “the only way private business can be accepted as a healthcare provider within the NHS environment”.  So a few statistics: for £1,195.00 a member of the public donates 80% of the cord blood to a public bank.  This is enough for one adult transplant and is provided free to the NHS hospital.  The first 5ml of cord blood, however, is stored on behalf of the family with the Virgin Health Bank for a 25 year term which can be used by the family if needed.  All profits made by the Virgin Health Bank are donated to stem cell initiatives.

“The ‘big news’ of the evening was the announcement by Dr Jethwa that Virgin Health Bank had established a long term partnership with the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.  This partnership is to accelerate the development and availability of stem cell transplants and it is hoped that it will demonstrate what can be achieved via a collaboration between the private and public sectors.  Another objective is to increase availability of cord blood cells and thereby reduce the currently high costs of transplants.

“Here at Global Regulatory Services we are particularly pleased with this announcement as, yet again, it showcases Cambridge (UK) as being a centre of innovation and excellence.  We are delighted to be located right in the middle of all these exciting scientific advances and to be part of what is affectionately called the ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’.”

Richard Branson elaborates on how his Health Bank will work:

“Virgin Health Bank was established to provide families with a high quality service through which they could store their baby’s cord blood stem cells and support the NHS by enabling them to donate some of those cells to others in need. The partnership with Cambridge University Hospitals will further the development and availability of stem cell transplants, and is a great example of what can be achieved through collaboration between businesses and the public sector.”
The initiative is planned to help address the problem of availability, which has partly been brought about by the high costs involved in such transplants. The cost of obtaining one stem cell unit for this purpose was estimated at £36,000 in 2010.
New parents delivering babies at Cambridge’s Rosie Hospital will be given information regarding cord blood banking, allowing them to decide whether they wish to participate in the scheme. Mothers who chose to store their baby’s stem cells will be able to donate some of them to Virgin Health Bank, who will then make them available for transplant on the NHS, increasing the chances of patients on waiting lists finding a match. Richard Branson has also pledged to reinvest any profits made from Virgin Health Bank to further the development of stem cell therapies.

However, I wonder if provisions can be made for families who want to donate to support this ethos, but can’t afford the fee. Can they donate for philanthropic reasons, relinquishing future rights?

Here is a link to a case study which demonstrates how a cord  blood bank can help save lives.


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  2. Electro-Kevin

    I admire Richard Branson but I think his ideas about narcotics is seriously misguided and will do far more harm than the good the Health Bank will do to our society.

    I’ve written to my MP outlining my rebuttals to Branson’s points as broadcast in an discussion on R4.

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