IRVINE, Calif.—In mid-August, LifeStem Inc., a subsidiary of CalbaTech Inc., introduced a program that collects and banks adult stem cells from two tissue sources in healthy individuals. James DeOlden, CEO of CalbaTech, says LifeStem's "Stem Cell MicroBank Service retrieves stem cells from two tissue sources, peripheral blood and adipose tissue. Stem cells are extracted from each individual collection and stored cryogenically." Three collections of blood and one collection of adipose tissue, he says, cost $3,500; annual storage fees are $200.
All cells placed in the MicroBank are for autologous use if a client becomes sick and can benefit from stem cell-based therapies, says DeOlden, though one potential exception would be if clients designate that CalbaTech may provide a portion of their stem cells for research purposes, in exchange for a discount on MicroBank services.
Thanks to Proposition 71, which funds stem cell research in California, DeOlden sees opportunity to sell research-grade stem cells to local scientists and avoid shipping cells outside the state. CalbaTech already collaborates with stem cell therapy companies, says DeOlden. LifeStem expects to bank more than 1,000 donations during the program's first year, says DeOlden. "We believe that our banking provides the best opportunity for those who wish to bank and benefit from research activity within the industry due to the fact that we collect stem cells from two tissue sources, thus doubling the potential therapeutic applications."
LifeStem cites heart, liver, bone, and muscle as some of the tissues that the extracted stem cells could generate. A recent prepared statement from CalbaTech cited research reported on Cell.com suggesting that cells collected for the MicroBank could potentially be manipulated to mirror embryonic stem cells, but without tissue rejection concerns.
CalbaTech will supplement its core revenue through the MicroBank, which it projects to earn $3.9 million during the program's first year, while other subsidiaries, such as Molecula and K-D Medical, will continue to sell research supplies like oligonucleotides, buffers, reagents, and growth media. CalbaTech, says DeOlden, "determined early on to not just be seen as an R&D company, so we sought out other companies that had revenue, that had a business model that made sense to us, and acquired a couple of companies on the east coast." Having resources within CalbaTech, he believes, will make it easier to supply cell expansion operations arising from the MicroBank.
Although Shankar Sellappan, a research analyst in drug discovery technologies at Frost & Sullivan, cites other companies selling robust stem cells, he says, "The business of banking seems like a very niche market. It seems like a neat business. I don't know how much it will grow." He sees low storage costs as a plus, though, and LifeStem's agreement with Solana MedSpa locations, which will serve as MicroBank donation points throughout the United States, should reach customers with disposable income.
Sellappan agrees that adult stem cells show potential for therapies beyond current uses but cautions that generating enough cells can require time and specialized environments, making their use difficult after emergencies. Even if the right types of tissues are generated, some, like heart cells, which have difficulties meshing because they must beat in rhythm, are problematic. Despite current hurdles, Sellappan sees numerous future markets for stem cells, including adipose applications in reconstructive, plastic, and breast enhancement surgeries.