01/26/2015 14:26 EST | Updated 03/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Héma-Québec seeks plasma donors to reduce dependency on U.S.

Quebec spends more than $50 million a year buying plasma from the United States to produce vital drugs from the protein-rich blood component.

Now Héma-Québec is working on a plan to reduce the province's dependence.     

The blood agency is investing in new technology that can extract plasma in one simple step, and it's setting up plasma-only donor centres across the province.

Plasma is the largest component in our blood and is used for transfusions, as well as for an increasing number of vital drugs.

In Quebec, blood drives yield only about 15 per cent of the province's plasma needs. The rest has to be imported – at great cost.

“We have enough plasma to do transfusions, but we need more plasma that can be used to produce such drugs as immunoglobulin or albumin,” said Héma-Québec spokesperson Laurent Paul Ménard.

Reducing dependency

Ménard says the blood agency is working to reduce what it must buy from the United States. He sayd if it doesn't, the dependency will only grow, since plasma is a key component in more and more drugs.

Another problem is that it's more expensive to extract plasma here, because the main source of plasma is through blood drives.

“When we're collecting whole blood, we have to process that blood into one of our two facilities, and it costs more,” said Ménard.

He says this new technology eliminates many of the challenges. 

At the moment there are three donation centres in the Montreal area, one in Trois-Rivières, and another will open in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean in June. 

The challenge now is to get Quebecers to visit and donate.