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Miracle cells in medical help
- 3 years on, stem cell transplant cost could scale down to Rs 6 lakh

It’s time to bank those “miracle cells” of your newborn, the upside potential of which in real treatments has now fired the imagination of medical scientists across the world.

In less than three years, the package cost of a stem cell transplant procedure in India, that could cure a malignancy or thalassaemia, should come down below Rs 6 lakh, against “an average of $18,000” to simply procure a unit of umbilical cord blood (UCB) in the US.

LifeCell, India’s first exclusive cord blood stem cell banking service headquartered in Chennai holding out this hope, plans to set up its marketing hub in Calcutta by the first quarter of next year, also bringing its cell therapies and public banking services to the city.

“Calcutta is extremely important to our plans and early signals from the city have been very encouraging. We are looking at the right partners among the leading hospitals there to bring the fruits of our therapy to the patients with zero time lag,” V.R. Chandramouli, CEO of Asia CRYO-CELL Pvt Ltd, told Metro in Chennai.

LifeCell, which launched its Chennai facility, set up at a cost of $4 million, this March, is the result of a collaboration between Asia CRYO-CELL and CRYO-CELL International (CCI). “Calcutta is now a preferred IT and biotech destination and should help our expansion drive as we move towards becoming a Rs 100-crore company by 2009,” he added.

The new service sectors are a major thrust area for LifeCell, as corporate houses look to tying up with the company for gifting the cord blood banking facility to their employees as a long-term perk, or as maternity benefits.

“Yes, it’s an extremely emotional gift and nearly 40 firms are currently in dialogue with us, many among them IT or BPO units,” said Prasad Manigipudi, vice-president, marketing.

LifeCell, which has set up the country’s first dedicated stem cell transplant centre at Sri Ramachandra Medical Center of Excellence in Chennai, is planning a cardio-vascular transplant centre by early 2007.

It already has UCB banking tie-ups with Woodlands, ILS, Belle Vue and Bhagirathi Neotia Woman and Child Care Centre in Calcutta. Alliances for therapy centres are being worked out.

Its public banking services will become operational next month, for which, LifeCell will tie up with leading hospitals across the country. The company hopes to launch the Cord Blood Registry before the year-end with 1,000 samples.

The main objective of a stem cell transplant is the need to reconstitute a patient’s blood and immune system, following treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which destroy blood cells.

The haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are infused directly into the patient’s blood stream, and subsequently migrate to the bone marrow.

“While our cell therapy focus will initially be on haemato-oncology, we will quickly move on to cardiac and other diseases, including diabetes,” said N.S. Moorthy, medical director of the company.

On a parallel, the company will carry out application research and Phase II clinical trials — to commence next month — and focus initially on stroke, ALS and spinal cord injuries. LifeCell will also manufacture stem cell suspensions, to “help stem cells penetrate better into the organs”.

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