Formerly known as Sanguis, the Universal Plasma project uses innovative filter technology to deliver plasma that can be given to any patient
Collaborate to Innovate 2018
Category: Healthcare & Medical
Winner: Universal Plasma
Partners: NIRI, NHSBT, Macopharma
Our winner in the healthcare & medical category combines textiles and chemistry innovation in a project that could transform transfusion services and help save lives. Universal Plasma is a collaboration led by Nonwovens Innovation & Research Institute (NIRI), a Leeds-based textiles company that develops products and prototypes for a variety of sectors. Working in partnership with biomed company Macopharma and NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), NIRI developed a new type of filter that removes ABO antibodies from donated human plasma, creating universal plasma (UP) that can be used to treat anyone.
Ordinarily, a patient’s blood group must match that of the donor in order for blood and plasma transfusions to be carried out safely. If the wrong type of plasma is given to a patient, the conflicting antibodies can cause haemolysis (rupture of red blood cells) which can result in death. Group AB plasma can be given to anyone, but just 4 per cent of the UK population has this blood type, meaning its supply is constantly under pressure.
As the only currently available universal plasma, AB is in high demand in emergency and military scenarios. When seconds can be the difference between life and death, it affords medics the luxury of not grouping the patient’s blood before treatment. However, AB’s relative scarcity has prompted the search for an alternative and Universal Plasma could present an economically viable and scalable source. According to Ross Ward, new business development manager at NIRI, the fibrous immunoadsorption filter is at the core of the project’s innovation.
“There’s an artificial antigen which we bind to a substrate,” Ward told The Engineer. “This artificial antigen basically binds to the antibodies, in simple terms almost like a key and lock mechanism. The plasma runs through the filter, then obviously binds to the antibodies, and what you get at the end of it is a plasma with harmful antibodies removed.”
The technology that NIRI uses to graft these antigens is a new proprietary process. Though the company is unable to share too many details, it essentially involves covalently binding the artificial antigen to nonwoven material using chemical reactions. The resulting high-porosity filter can remove ABO antibodies from donated human plasma, converting 300ml into UP in approximately 10 minutes. The UP can then be used to treat anyone, regardless of blood type, as there are minimal antibodies present to react with those in their own plasma.
“It has to be under 10 minutes for it to be marketable,” said Ward. “Anything more becomes too big a burden and it takes too long to be a suitable product.”
Though the concept originated with NIRI, the company knew that collaboration would be key to refining the product and testing it in the field. Working with Macopharma, NIRI designed the filter to ensure it was compatible with the biomed company’s process for manufacturing blood packs. NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), which supplies blood across England, also joined the consortium, which was supported by Innovate UK.
“We did initial feasibility studies on being able to bind the artificial antigen and prove the concept,” Ward explained. “Through the project, we worked with Macopharma and NHSBT to develop that technology further.
“NHSBT tested the technology in a real feasibility study and then we were granted an IUK (Innovate UK) project where we formed the consortium. At that point we brought in Carbosynth, a company that was able to produce the artificial antigen. We also brought in Macopharma…to assist with how we can develop the technology from a larger upscale perspective.”
Worldwide, more than 7 million units of therapeutic plasma are used each year, with a market value in excess of £350m. The UK represents £20m of that, and the Universal Plasma consortium envisages significant adoption of its filter here, particularly after the clinical and cost benefits become clear. To ensure the product can penetrate the global market, the plan is to offer the technology as an ‘add-on’ rather than integrated directly into blood collection sets. This will allow the filter to be used with any type of blood pack. NIRI is now working with both Macopharma and NHSBT to scale up the process so that it can be deployed en masse.
“The link mechanism – the method of binding the artificial antigen to the unwoven – we’ve proven the concept and the feasibility,” said Ward. “It works. However, upscaling it, and being able to put it into an industrial scale process, is what we’re currently doing. So we’re working with Macopharma and NHSBT on developing that. It will have biological and validation trials, and it if it meets them it will also go to regulatory approval, and we’re hoping it will be commercialised potentially within the next five years.”
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