Using innovative approaches to precision medicine, Germantown-basedis helping cancer patients by turning cells into disease-killing machines. Through its UltraCAR-T platform, the company takes advantage of a patient’s immune system, genetically engineering T-Cells, the body’s defense mechanism, to fight tumors.
Using CAR-T therapy to treat cancer patients is not new, but Precigen is getting these therapies to patients faster than ever before. How fast? Precigen has turned a process that used to take three to four weeks in a lab into a process that happens overnight in a hospital. The day after cells are removed, cancer-fighting T-cells are infused back into the body where they grow and start to kill tumors.
“We are the only company that has the ability to do this overnight, in the hospital,” said Dr. Helen Sabzevari, Precigen’s CEO. “Our two clinical trials testing this platform are the first in mankind.”
Every workday, every meeting, and every minute of Sabzevari’s day is powered by the patients served by Precigen’s innovative treatments. In the instance of AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia), an illness that Precigen is developing a treatment for, patients have a very limited amount of time to fight the disease, often only three to four months. The timeline to administer other Car-T and cell therapies is simply too long. Precigen’s next-day infusions give patients treatment earlier. It's this opportunity to deliver life-changing treatment to patients that have no other options that empowers everyone at Precigen.
“This team is 24/7,” said Sabzevari. “For us it’s not a job anymore. It is our passion. It's what we have dedicated our life to. As a scientist, for myself, and I think for everyone else in this company, nothing makes our life more fulfilled then when we get a call that a patient has responded to our treatments.”
Cheryl Bolinger, Director of Molecular Biology at Precigen, also feels a sense of fulfilment knowing her work has the potential to save lives of people who are out of options.
“The more time we take, that’s more time that we don’t have a therapeutic for them,” said Bolinger. “Knowing that we come here and we have a purpose every day is very rewarding—yet it does take responsibility.”
Precigen has made a big impact in a short amount of time. The company opened in 2017 as a pre-clinical, subsidiary of a parent company Intrexon. It had expanded its portfolio extensively from preclinical to clinical, focusing on gene therapy and cell therapy for oncology, autoimmunity and infectious diseases.
In early 2020, Intrexon became Precigen, establishing Germantown as the company’s global headquarters. The Germantown facility employs more than 120 people working in all capacities, ranging from discovery to manufacturing.
For biotech businesses, Sabzevari says there’s no better place to be, citing the area’s strong pipeline, access to patients, and opportunity to collaborate with leading institutions, such as the NIH.
“We have NIH here. It’s next-to-none,” said Sabzevari. “You have no equivalent of this institution anywhere else in the world. The amount of knowledge and science that comes out NIH and NCI is unparalleled to anywhere else.”
The area’s premier hospital and cancer centers, such as Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, and the University of Maryland, is also an advantage to biohealth companies, Sabzevari said.
Sabzevari will tell you that Maryland isn’t just great for business, it’s great for living, too. On a personal level, she loves that it offers her the culture that she loves, and “the closeness to nature and sanity that I need as CEO.”
After spending time in Boston, as well as other areas in the country and world, Sabzevari calls Maryland the “total package.”
“This is a unique opportunity and to be very frank, it’s why I came back to Maryland,” said Sabzevari.
Bolinger, an Ohio native, also says that in addition to being a great place for her career, Maryland is a great place to raise a family.
“The cost of living is much more reasonable compared to other biotech hubs in the country,” said Bolinger. “The schools are fantastic. It’s a good area to live, and that’s why I chose to stay here.”
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