Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR), a company that pays for plasma donations, is hoping to set up a shop in Saskatoon. It's controversial, and has some people raising concerns.

The process CPR uses for plasma donation typically takes one to one and a half hours. It's a similar process to donating blood, but the cells are returned to the donor during the process, and only the plasma is taken. As a result, donors can give much more frequently than they can for blood donations — as often as once a week. 

'Experience in other jurisdictions, as well as Canada, shows that without any type of time compensation, we'll not be able to get enough donors.' - Barzin Bahardoust, Canadian Plasma Resources

The plasma is used for manufacturing drugs known as plasma protein products. The most controversial part is that CPR pays people who donate. The practice was banned in Quebec and is about to be banned in Ontario. The company gives donors a $25 gift card for each donation. The gift card can be used almost anywhere a credit card can, but donors cannot withdraw cash from it, or transfer it into another person's name. 

"Experience in other jurisdictions, as well as Canada, shows that without any type of time compensation, we'll not be able to get enough donors," CEO of the company Barzin Bahardoust said. "In a perfect world we would like to see people to come and donate plasma as frequently as we hope without any type of motivation or compensation for their time, but it just doesn't happen."

He says Canada currently relies on the United States, where people are paid, for over 80 per cent of the plasma protein products.

Bahardoust said they chose to give gift cards to comply with the World Health Organization's definition of voluntary non-remunerated donations. 

The company is currently awaiting approval from Health Canada. Bahardoust said that if they open, they expect about half their donors to be students.

"Only around one in 60 Canadians donates blood at the moment, so there is a large pool of qualified donors that are not donating, and these people are who we are looking to attract."

'We really need to be very cautious': Dr. Ryan Meili

Prominent Saskatoon doctor Ryan Meili said he has a number of concerns about the company opening in Saskatchewan.

"I think we really need to be very cautious about what the effects of that will be on the general donor system of blood and plasma that we need for patients," he said. 

Dr. Ryan Meili

Dr. Ryan Meili opposes the idea of a private company paying for plasma donations. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Meili said the process is not without health risks. In the U.S. where donating plasma is common, regular donors report weakness, chronic headaches, and other problems Meili said. 

He wants blood and plasma donations run by a single organization, Canadian Blood Services, because he believes it will mean better oversight and regulations. 

Meili is also concerned that the company targets low-income people.

'Do we want to be the place where people are allowed to live in poverty as long as they can sell some of their blood or plasma, then that's how they can scrape by.' - Dr. Ryan Meili

"In Saskatchewan we've seen that they are looking to set up on Quebec Avenue, which is a few blocks away from the predatory loans and pawn shops that are along Idylwyld."

He says he's surprised there hasn't been public discussion around it. 

"I think it causes us to really reflect on what kind of a province we want to be," Meili said. "We have a poverty reduction strategy, and our work is towards getting people out of poverty. Or do we want to be the place where people are allowed to live in poverty as long as they can sell some of their blood or plasma, then that's how they can scrape by."

Meanwhile, Bahardoust says if Health Canada approves his company, Canadian Plasma Resources could be open in Saskatchewan as early as next month.