VIRGIN LAUNCHES STEM-CELL BANK IN QATAR

Doha, 8 March 2009:  The benefits of stem cell therapies will soon be realised for the people of Qatar as Virgin Health Bank establishes a partnership with Qatar Science & Technology Park.

Qatar parents will be able to have their new born babies’ stem cells collected, processed and cryogenically stored.  The stem cells are obtained from the blood remaining in the umbilical cord after birth and are already being used in treatments for 85 different medical conditions.  Additionally stem cells are a major focus of medical research around the world and this is expected to add to the number of therapies available.

The announcement was welcomed by Qatar’s health authorities and religious leaders.

“Stem cells have already proven useful for fighting leukaemia, and are one of the most promising areas for future medical breakthroughs” said HE Dr. Ghalia Al Thani, Minister of Health.  “The Ministry welcomes the Virgin blood bank because it increases the range of medical options available to Qatar’s population.”

Virgin Health Bank and Qatar’s medical authorities are exploring the use of the umbilical cord-blood stem cell bank as part of a national public-health program.  Such a program would create the world’s first comprehensive source of stem cells for the indigenous Middle Eastern population and would for example, make it easier for clinicians to source a matched tissue typed stem cell unit when a transplant is needed.

Umbilical cord-blood stem cell transplants are increasingly being used in preference to bone marrow for conditions such as leukaemia and thalassemia.  Evidence shows that umbilical cord blood stem-cell transplants result in fewer complications, reduced occurrences of graft-versus-host syndrome, and importantly, they are more readily available.

Because Virgin Health Bank’s process collects stem cells from ordinary umbilical cords, ethical considerations related to other sources of stem cells are avoided.  Its model has been deemed compliant with Shariah law by a Qatar-based Islamic scholar.

Virgin Health Bank with the support of local institutes expects to start storing cord blood stem cell samples from Qatar within the next few months.  The company, which was launched in the UK in 2007, will relocate its international headquarters to Qatar Science & Technology Park where it will build a state of the art processing and cryogenic storage facility.

Dr. Hanan Al Kuwari, Managing Director of Hamad Medical Corporation, said “Our goal is to increase the range and quality of public-health services available in Qatar.  Virgin Health Bank marks a large step in this direction and I welcome its arrival.”

David Macauley, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Health Bank, said “We are delighted to have the opportunity to use our skills and technology to help realise the current and future benefits of stem cell therapies for the people of Qatar and to be working in partnership with QSTP, the Qatar Foundation and Qatar’s medical authorities to accomplish this”  

Dr. Tidu Maini, Executive Chairman of Qatar Science & Technology Park, said “We are delighted that Virgin Health Bank is moving its global headquarters to Qatar.  This is a significant decision, and a testament to Qatar’s ability to accelerate the world’s best medical science.  The legacy of our partnership with Virgin will serve the health of Qatar’s citizens for years to come.”