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Boost to cord blood banking

New Delhi, Feb. 17: Companies urging parents to store their newborn babies’ placental cord blood, dubbed by some as a biological insurance policy, hope to draw more customers under the Union finance ministry’s proposal to withdraw service tax on cord blood banking.

Finance minister P. Chidambaram announced in his interim budget speech that his ministry has accepted the Union health ministry’s request that services provided by cord blood banks are health services and should be exempted from the 12 per cent service tax.

Several cord blood banking companies with branches across the country have been urging parents to let them harvest and store placental cord blood, a potential source of stem cells, that can be used to treat certain diseases — from select genetic disorders to cancer.

The bill for preserving the cord blood for two decades or longer — in a manner where it may be used whenever needed — ranges from about Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000, depending on what package parents choose, an industry executive said.

“The withdrawal of service tax will allow us to use the money to intensify market campaigns to promote this concept,” said Upamannyue Roy Choudhury, general manager with Cordlife Sciences India, a company based in Calcutta that has stored 20,000 samples of cord blood over the past three years.

Another senior cord blood banking services executive said it was still early to say whether and how much of the withdrawn service tax companies might pass on to customers to reduce the bill for storing cord blood.

“This is a price sensitive service — a small fall in the price could make it affordable to many more couples,” said Anup Singh, a New Delhi-based business development executive with a cord blood banking company.

Cord blood banking executives estimate that more than 150,000 parents have preserved their newborn babies’ cord blood over the past three years. Some companies have cited examples of how the cord has helped in the treatment of patients with thalassaemia and leukemia.