Forbes: How Precigen CEO Helen Sabzevari’s Vision Could Revolutionize Cancer Treatment

As adults, few of us are doing what we wanted to grow up to be as children. Reality and bills and basic human limitations persuade us away from our cowboy ninja and time-traveling detective dreams. Fortunately, this isn’t the case for Helen Sabzevari. “I think the very first time I recognized I wanted to do what I’m doing currently, was when I was 12 years old,” she says, recalling to Forbes how she was mesmerized by a pre-teen biology lesson on cancer. 

Forty-seven years later, Sabzevari is CEO of Precigen, a biopharmaceutical company developing cutting edge treatments for a number of different diseases, including type 1 diabetes and certain forms of cancer. It’s here that Sabzevari, 59, is bringing her lifetime of experience in cancer research to realize a vision of immunotherapies that are both more effective and easier to scale than what’s on the market now.   

One of the biggest innovations in cancer treatments was the development of CAR-T cell therapy. These engineered immune cells are delivered to the body through specially designed viruses, where they target molecular changes typically seen in cancers and attack. The first such treatment was approved by the FDA in 2017, and four others have been approved since. 

CAR-T therapies have shown great success against certain cancers but they also have limitations: they don’t work well against solid tumors, and so are generally used against leukemia and other blood cancers. They’re also expensive: a course of CAR-T therapy can cost over four hundred thousand dollars, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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