CSL offers $40,000 to help solve its plasma problem

Biotech giant CSL has turned to the public for ideas on how to get more bang for its buck from its blood products, offering $40,000 and mentorship as a reward for the winning idea.

The $120 billion blood plasma giant says there is a looming global shortage of life-saving medicines made from plasma, and is calling on experts in all fields for ideas on how CSL can improve its yield from the materials it collects.

Its pharmaceutical arm, CSL Behring, on Wednesday launched the challenge with Australian start-up incubator Cicada Innovations.

CSL Behring’s senior vice-president for plasma product development, Douglas Lee, said the company was casting a wide net for ideas, with CSL wanting to “get the voices of people we might not necessarily hear from”.

CSL has been in the spotlight recently as it develops the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but the company generates most of its revenues from plasma-based therapies. Its ability to extract treatments from donated plasma efficiently is critical to its bottom line.

The public call out, which will see the person with the winning idea take home $40,000 and mentorship from the company, comes after a significant drop in the collection of donated plasma over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic. This, in turn, is expected to lead to supply shortages in the coming months for several medical treatments and hurt sales of immunoglobulin products made by CSL Behring, which banked $US4.3 billion in the first half.

Senior manager at CSL Behring Laura Keigher said there was a shortage of immunoglobulin-based therapies globally and demand was expected to increase in the coming years.

“We believe it is possible to enhance our current processes to collect more [immunoglobulin g] from every litre of donated plasma to help close this gap,” she said. Immunoglobulin g is the antibody CSL draws from donated plasma to make life-saving treatments.

Cicada Innovations chief executive Sally-Ann Williams encouraged researchers from all fields to pitch their ideas to CSL, regardless of whether they worked directly in the biotechnology space.

“You might come up with something that CSL hasn’t even thought of — which I’m kind of hoping for,” she said.

A panel of representatives from Cicada Innovations and CSL will choose a shortlist of candidates who will pitch their ideas directly to the company.

CSL chief executive Paul Perreault has previously told this masthead the company is trying everything it can to boost the collection of plasma after the pandemic impacted operations. CSL did not update guidance in February despite posting a bumper profit for the first half, largely because the drop in collections from US donors due to COVID lockdowns is expected to have an impact on the full-year result.

CSL’s share price has declined 18.5 per cent over the past year as analysts have run the ruler over the impacts of lower collections on sales in the coming months.

Morgan Stanley analysts expect a strong rebound in plasma collections by the 2023 financial year but say there is still uncertainty over the recovery.

“Plasma collections are now well below 2019 levels for 12 months and counting. [Immunoglobulin] shortages of similar magnitude and duration should follow,” Morgan Stanley analyst Sean Laaman wrote in a note to clients.

A CSL spokeswoman said the company hoped “by seeking ideas from adjacent industries and experts we might uncover new ways to advance the production of plasma therapies”.

SOURCE/FIRST PUBLISHED: https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/companies/csl-offers-40-000-to-help-solve-its-plasma-problem-20210414-p57j1q.html



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