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'Embattled cord-blood bank must preserve supply'
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
02/25/2013
The Tel Aviv District Court rules that private cord-blood bank Biocord must continue to preserve its blood bank.
 
The Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday issued an order compelling the private cord-blood bank Biocord to continue to preserve its blood bank, as well as permit access to potential buyers for at least an additional two weeks until the blood can be transferred to another bank.

The hearing was yet another in a series of hearings in a lawsuit regarding Biocord’s alleged mishandling of donors’ cord-blood donations and noncompliance with Health Ministry regulations.

A cord-blood bank is a facility that stores umbilical cord blood for future use.

Both private and public cord blood banks have developed since the mid-to-late-1990s, in response to the development of cord-blood transplants for treating diseases in the circulatory and immune systems.

Public banks accept donations to be used for anyone in need and the donated blood is also used for research purposes.

Private cord-blood banking is more controversial, as it entails considerable fees and is premised on being saved for the person who donated it as a baby, should that person later get sick.

Cord blood contains a special type of stem cells that can form red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.

Because of their special properties, cord blood cells are used to treat blood disorders, cancers and genetic diseases related to the immune and circulatory systems.

In November 2012, a law was approved regulating the storage and handling of cord blood.

Before it went into force, companies such as Biocord had operated on an unregulated basis.

Soon after, the Health Ministry found that Biocord was not in compliance with the criteria for storing and handling cord blood, nor was it economically stable enough to maintain operations in the long term.

At the end of last month, the ministry ordered Biocord to stop taking on new clients, and to inform its current clientele that it could not continue operations.

As a result of the public controversy, Biocord lost its contracts for maintaining the cord blood in regular locations, and was forced to relocate it to a storage facility in Rishon Lezion.

In light of the violations noted by the ministry and the transfer of the cord blood, the ministry and the parents who donated their children’s cord blood to Biocord’s bank have been concerned that it could be damaged.

A few weeks ago the Tel Aviv District Court gave Biocord until Thursday’s hearing to report on the condition of the cord blood it is storing, and to hand over a list of all of its donors.

The court had also ruled that an immediate solution should be found for safe and permanent storage of the cord blood, even if the solution must be carried out before all of the financial disputes are worked out. This was in order to secure the cord blood, and so the court could reach a final decision on what should be done with it, as well as what steps ought to be taken generally regarding the embattled company.

To move ahead with a solution regarding storage, even before all the financial issues were ironed out, was notable in that much of the hearing revolved around the fight over the financial condition of the company, and potential buyers for the rights to maintain the cord blood.

Leading up to Thursday’s hearing, Biocord had played hardball, demanding the group of parents who joined the Health Ministry in the lawsuit against Biocord be compelled to pay additional funds to maintain the cord blood.

Biocord implied that without these additional funds, it could not pay its bills for maintaining proper storage until a new bankbuyer was found.

Echoing the parents' attorney that this issue was “not just financial” but also about “blood, something living,” the court ignored Biocord’s request and instead essentially ordered those responsible for the cord blood’s storage to continue storing it properly for a minimum additional two weeks, regardless of cost.

The Health Ministry and the parents’ attorneys also complained that Biocord was not cooperating fully with transferring information necessary for other banks to evaluate their ability to receive the cord blood. Biocord personnel allegedly physically prevented representatives of other banks from obtaining and checking cord blood samples.

The court ordered Biocord to provide potential new bank’s representatives with whatever access was necessary to check the quality of the blood and the feasibility of receiving it.

Next, it gave Biocord an extra push towards moving the process forward and ruled that it was to be updated on March 7.

Medical critics say the impact of cord blood is still unproven, and criticize the private cord blood banks, particularly for their aggressive marketing.
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