CA: $7.5 million plasma donor center planned
For-profit plasma donor centers in Memphis are typically housed in Class B or Class C buildings and in commercial districts near economically struggling neighborhoods, where more residents might have reason to sell their blood than give it away.
But now comes BioLife Plasma Services. The company has filed building documents showing it intends to construct a “world-class,” $4.5 million facility. Counting equipment, furnishings and soft costs, the project is a $7.5 million initial investment, company officials told The Commercial Appeal by email.
And the site where BioLife chose to build in Memphis — a bustling section of the Germantown Parkway corridor — is hardly stressed. The vacant lot is across Bellevue Parkway from Wolfchase Toyota and just around the curve from the new Ikea.
Larry Moss, who heads the Interstate Companies, appeared surprised this week when informed by a reporter that BioLife intends to invest so much in a Memphis facility. Grabbing a piece of paper and pen to write down where the BioLife facility is planned, Moss indicated he had no explanation for the economics of BioLife’s investment.
Interstate Companies operates 23 plasma donation centers and nine whole-blood collection facilities. Interstate’s newest plasma donor center will be in Mendenhall Square shopping center, which contrasts sharply to the BioLife site. The Hickory Hill/Fox Meadows strip center anchors the junction of Mendenhall and Winchester, where vacant retail property and disinvestment has left some properties blighted.
BioLife is a division of Shire, a biotechnology company focused on rare diseases and highly specialized medical conditions. Asked what BioLife will do at its Memphis site, Shire spokeswoman Molly Poarch said by email that the company “is an industry leader in the collection of high quality plasma that is processed into life-saving plasma-based therapies. BioLife operates and maintains numerous state-of-the-art plasma collection facilities throughout the United States.”
“They didn’t come in with a lot of information about their business model,” Mt. Juliet planning director Bo Logan said. “Everybody that I work with at the city is wondering about.”
Each of the BioLife facilities employs 50 to 70 people, Poarch said. In addition to the initial $7.5 million investment, BioLife pays $3 million a year to customers who donate plasma. Technically, the customers are being reimbursed for their time, not being paid for their plasma.
Even though its customers are paid for their time, the industry frames the donations as a civic contribution that benefits patients suffering from rare diseases and blood-related conditions.
“It’s actually a very laudable gesture to donate plasma, just as it is to donate blood,” Robert said.
“I agree it’s a little bit challenging and yes, in the old times it was simple to put plasma centers where there was poverty,” Robert said. “But (now) the companies try to put the centers in affluent localities in order to attract everybody, not only low income people.”