The new company, Virgin Health Bank QSTP LLC, will collect, process and store stem cells from the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants. It has been created to help realise the benefits of stem cell therapies for the people of Qatar and the wider region.
Virgin Health Bank was originally launched in the UK in 2007 by Sir Christopher Evans OBE, Chairman of Excalibur and Europe’s leading biotechnology entrepreneur, and Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, both passionate believers in the benefits of stem cell therapies.
“We knew that a combination of class-leading technology and the strength of the Virgin Brand would enable us to develop an ethical and sustainable umbilical cord stem cell banking business. It’s fitting, therefore, that both Sir Christopher and I are in Doha today to mark the occasion of the new business’ inaugural board meeting,” said Branson.
The creation of Virgin Health Bank QSTP and its decision to headquarter itself in Doha, where it will build an advanced processing and cryogenic storage facility, was welcomed by both Qatar’s health services and religious leaders when it was announced in Doha last week.
The new business and Qatar’s medical authorities are already in dialogue exploring the use of umbilical cord blood stem cells as part of a national public-health program. VHB QSTP plans to work with local institutes to create the first comprehensive source of stem cells which could be used in treatments for the indigenous Middle Eastern population. The business will shortly commence a pilot program that will see it process and store cord blood stem cells collected in Qatar.
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.
The board of Virgin Health Bank QSTP comprises:
• Professor Sir Christopher Evans OBE, Chairman of Excalibur
• Dr Tidu Maini, Executive Chairman of the Qatar Science & Technology Park
• Mr. Gordon MaCallum, Chief Executive of Virgin Management Limited
• Mr. Mark Poole, Deputy Chief Executive of the Virgin Group
• Dr. Hanan Al Kuwari, Managing Director of Hamad Medical Corporation
• Dr. Rony Douek, Investment Director of Excalibur
• Mr. Kenneth Moch, President of Euclidean Life Science Advisors
David Macauley, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Health Bank QSTP, said: “We are delighted that Sir Christopher Evans and Sir Richard Branson have been able to be here in Doha to mark the launch of this exciting new phase in the development of Virgin Health Bank.”
Dr. Hanan Al Kuwari, Managing Director of Hamad Medical Corporation, said:
“My team and I are delighted to be entering into this partnership with Virgin Health Bank as we know that it will bring significant advantages to Qatar’s citizens both now and into the future. Our organisations will be working together to develop a program which we hope will become the model for the region.
We’re also excited about the opportunities for sharing technology, knowledge and experiences and we’re looking forward to helping to promote the benefits of cord blood stem cells to the people of Qatar.”
Sir Christopher Evans OBE, Chairman of Excalibur, said: “I’m really excited about the potential for this new partnership as it provides services which are vital to realising the benefits of stem cell therapies for Qatar. I’m also pleased that it’s going to be based within what will become one of the world’s most important centres for innovation and research in healthcare and other technologies, and it will enjoy significant benefits from being part of the QSTP community.”
Sir Richard Branson, Founder of The Virgin Group of Companies, said: “I’m very pleased to be able to be here to help launch this new initiative in Qatar. The combination of the vision and ambition of the State of Qatar, Virgin Health Bank’s knowledge and capabilities, and the innovative environment of QSTP will create an industry-leading example for the establishment of cord blood banks and support the delivery of commercial, academic and health care benefits.”
Eulian Roberts, Managing Director of Qatar Science & Technology Park, said: "We are delighted to welcome Sir Richard Branson and Sir Christopher Evans to Doha for the first board meeting of Virgin Health Bank QSTP. They started the company because they believed in the benefit of stem cells; they have moved it to Qatar because they believe that together we can accelerate its growth and fulfill its medical promise. With founders like Richard and Chris, and now the full support of QSTP and Qatar's medical community, it is clear that Virgin Health Bank QSTP has a very bright future."