Should You Save Your Cells Now to Fight Cancer Later?
A Florida startup is offering customers the chance to bank their immune cells to be used for advanced cancer treatments in the future. But scientists are skeptical.
A Florida-based startup called Cell Vault wants to bank your immune cells in case you need them one day. The company says these cells could be used to make so-called living drugs against cancer and is offering a service that will cryopreserve them for an initial $700 and keep them stored in a freezer for $300 a year after that.
Advanced therapies that involve supercharging patients’ own immune cells are showing remarkable results in people with some types of cancer. Though most cancer patients still receive traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, Cell Vault thinks that will change in the next few years, and that consumers will be willing to pay continuously to harvest and store those cells. But some cancer doctors say people probably won’t ever need to use their banked cells, and even if they did, it’s unknown if these cells could even be used to make such therapies.
Founder and CEO Kevin Kirk, who previously ran an “event experience” company called Social Nova, came up with the idea after talking to a friend who works at a biotech firm. Kirk thought that if women and couples can freeze eggs and embryos for future fertility treatments, why not freeze immune cells for future cancer therapy? (Egg and embryo storage freezing costs around $400 to $1,000 a year.)
Kirk’s company is marketing its cell banking service to healthy people — especially the “30- and 40-year-old health conscious consumers who can afford to do something like this,” he says — as well as newly diagnosed cancer patients. After you order a kit from Cell Vault’s website, the company says it will send a phlebotomist to your home to collect five vials of your blood. The blood sample is then shipped overnight to Cell Vault’s lab, where it is processed and stored. Cell Vault says it will begin shipping its collection kits in September.