By Rachel Wulff

RANCHO CORDOVA (CBS13) — A Rancho Cordova company that is on the cutting edge of cell and gene therapy is expanding while aiming to make a life-saving cancer treatment more affordable and bring in more jobs.

Chris Xu is the CEO of ThermoGenesis, an engineering company founded by UC Davis alumni decades ago to develop automated processing tools in the cord blood industry. But it’s the process they patented recently that is just what the doctor ordered.

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“We now learned how to use our own human cells as weapons to fight disease such as cancer,” Xu said.

Since 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved five cutting-edge treatments for use with cancer patients where radiation and chemotherapy have failed. It’s known as CAR T Cell therapy.

“They take the cell from a patient and turn that cell into a lab,” Xu said. “And that lab expands them, modifies them and gives those same cells back to the same patient.”

The patient uses their own modified cells to fight the disease they are carrying. Xu said it’s effective in 90% of cases. The issue is the cost.

“For CAR T therapy, it’s half a million for one shot,” Xu said.

It’s covered 80% by insurance and Medicare, but even a $100,000 payment out of pocket is too high. Xu said it’s expensive because not many companies have the high-tech tools to produce it.

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Right now, the leading pharmaceutical company only makes 5,000 doses a year. Xu said ThermoGenesis is changing that.

“We can enhance the efficiency by four-fold compared to the current manufacturing processes,” he said. “If you increase efficiencies, you can reduce the cost.”

Xu said ThermoGenesis is already manufacturing the cells on demand for medical institutes and other drug companies. And when they expand into a new 35,000-square-foot facility one block away, they will be able to produce even more doses at a lower price.

“Really, a benefit is the job that is created with this type of industry and the high-paying salaries that go along with it,” said Rancho Cordova Deputy City Manager Micah Runner.

City leaders are excited to see this type of growth in the life science field aligned with the expansion of Aggie Square near UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

“So the more of these types of companies, the more the labor shed grows and the more those companies want to come and be here,” said Scott Powell, the executive vice president of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council.

The development by ThermoGenesis would improve livability and lower drug costs for end-stage cancer patients.

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One of the limiting factors of this therapy is the poor condition of cancer patients’ immune cells. ThermoGenesis is also launching a cell-banking service that allows healthy people to store their immune cells ahead of time—kind of like egg harvesting.