BioBanc USA opens the first place for ‘immune system storage’ in the country.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
In the corner of a chilly lab in BioBanc USA’s sparkling new Ryan Ranch headquarters squats a specialized freezer worth a quarter of a million dollars. It’s an expensive bit of futuristic technology, but the braintrust behind BioBanc is confident that the contents the “bioarchive” keeps at minus-196-degrees will prove infinitely more valuable.
The cooler’s smoking-cold liquid nitrogen cryogenically freezes cartridges of white blood cells drawn from BioBanc clients. BioBanc doctors and investors believe that as cutting-edge medicine starts to incorporate white blood cell therapies—currently they are in the early stages of clinical trials or have yet to be developed—these immuno-warriors could be thawed and injected to help people with weakened immune systems fight off infection and other serious health problems. (They also trust that it will allow them to make a very healthy profit.)
“You have a better chance of getting cancer than having your house burn down.”
In fact, white blood cells have already begun to show promise in the treatment of melanoma and other cancers, in part because white blood cells can essentially be programmed to attack specific pathogens or tumors and not the entire system, as does chemotherapy. BioBanc USA CEO-President Bo Hayner likes to call it “bioinsurance.”
“You have a 20 times better chance of getting cancer than having your house burn down,” Hayner says during a tour of the lab.
“And everybody buys house insurance,” adds Roberta Carlson, a client service rep.
Skeptics say BioBanc’s cures are based on potential advancements; others accuse BioBanc of playing on people’s fear of disease. Hayner and Director of Lab Operations Lindsay Patel—who both have their WBCs frozen—prefer to focus on the medical expertise behind the business.
“The doctors behind this are mental giants,” Hayner says.
“As soon as people start hearing it,” Patel says, “people get it.”
On Saturday, April 21, a group of decorated physicians—joined by politicians, investors, potential investors and press—will gather at BioBanc for a grand opening spokespeople tout as “half education, half celebration.” An expert medical panel, anchored by Dr. Dominique Charron, a professor of immunology at the University of Paris and chairman of the department of immunology at St. Louis Hospital (also in Paris), will explain how “freezing our immune system” works; a VIP reception will follow.
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In February, BioBanc obtained a biologics license to draw and process blood in California. They were already the only owners of the patent for the process required to isolate, preserve and store the white blood cells in the country. (Banks already exist in places including Dubai, South Africa, Wales and Greece.)
For the client, the white blood cell harvesting and preserving process is simple, but not cheap. For $1,495 (though BioBanc currently offers a $995 promotion), clients can have their blood drawn. After the blood is tested for disease and infection, a spin in a centrifuge starts the process of separating the white blood cells from platelets, red blood cells and plasma. A second spin with a highly specialized blood bag compartmentalizes the white blood cells and prepares them to be frozen.
Around 50 samples currently reside in the extreme cold, with 100 client samples scheduled to join them soon. The price includes one year of storage; cryogenic rent and maintenance runs $150 a year thereafter. One cooler can hold up to 3,623 cartridges.
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The birth of BioBanc USA was precipitated in part by the sale of a lucrative local business in February 2005.
CEO Hayner and Chief Operating Officer Rob Thomas, local residents for more than two decades, once ran Carmel Applied Technologies Inc. (CATI) to the tune of $22 million in profits in 2004. Hayner says they were sought out to provide the business side of the BioBanc operation.
Dr. Bob Keller, a friend, former ER doctor at CHOMP and principal of Monterey’s anti-aging Keller Medical Institute, had been looking for someone to help him realize the potential he saw in new medical patents being developed in Europe.
“We sold CATI and were looking for something else to do,” Hayner says. “The doctors convinced Rob and I to come on board.”
Hayner and Thomas had no intention of leaving Monterey, and a nationwide mail survey measuring receptiveness to the BioBanc concept gave them all the inspiration they needed to keep the new business headquartered locally.
“We looked at the financial [demographics], the amount of education, and that people are focused on health,” Hayner says. “The Peninsula had it all.”
Hayner hopes within 10 years the technology will be “widely accepted” and its storage centers will multiply. He further envisions a day when the government will buy the patent, require the procedure universally, and establish a national bank. For now, however, he is content to watch the buzz around his immunology bank grow.
“I can’t go to a dinner or social meeting,” Hayner says, “without everybody wanting to talk about it.”
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||1/3||
the Fraction of Monterey County’s 76,000 pre-K-12 students identified as migrant education eligible. The percentage is increasing. Source: Monterey County Office of Education.