stem cells are set to take root in the Indian drug market. They will be launched as a constituent of umbilical cord blood (ucb) to help treat fatal diseases such as thalassemia, anaemia and leukaemia. Reliance Life Sciences (rls), a subsidiary of the Reliance group of Industries, has become the first Indian company to be given permission to market the ucb.
To be called 'ReliCord', the product consists of residual blood in the umbilical cord of a baby, which is generally discarded. This blood is rich in stem cells. Stem cells are the 'master cells' of the human body that have the potential to develop into almost every other type of cell. To start with rls has initiated the process of cord blood banks, which will be the first of its kind in India. The samples will be classified on the basis of specific proteins present in them and will be stored at -196c.
As ReliCord can help in the production of red blood cells, it will particularly benefit those whose bone marrow is damaged. Reliance's new product will thus replace bone marrow transplants, where non-compatibility of tissue of the donor and the recipient is a major stumbling block. ReliCord can also be used after aggressive chemotherapy in cancer where the bone marrow is damaged.
To ensure the safety of the product, the cord blood is collected and processed under the most stringent quality control measures. "It will be mandatory for ReliCord to follow all the safety pre-requisites like screening for hiv, Hepatitis b and c," says Ashwini Kumar, drug controller general, Union ministry of health and family welfare.
The drugs controller general has asked the company to submit a report on post-marketing surveillance of the product after a year of its launch. Though the marketing of cord blood is yet to begin, the company has filed for international patents for the product. The company has also applied for approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration to market ReliCord internationally.