Morphogenesis, a clinical stage company that develops novel cell and gene therapies, based out of Tampa, recently got FDA approval to expand human clinical trials with an innovative cancer therapeutic. Grit Daily interviewed Morphogenesis CEO Dr. Patricia Lawman to get more information about this technology that could potentially be a game-changer in regard to cancer treatment. ImmuneFx is currently being studied in advanced Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) patients.
The gene therapy is being tested for safety and efficacy, and though samples sizes have been small, the therapy has shown promising results, as patients whose bodies rejected other treatments, took well to ImmuneFx.
The compound, injected directly into the tumor, is made of plasmid DNA that encodes a single bacterial gene, which is added to dextrose, a simple sugar used as a stabilizer, and a positively charged polymer, which helps keep the plasmid DNA formed. Dr. Lawman explained that, “tumor cells are stealthy because they’re from us – they’re our own cells,” but that ImmuneFx exposes differences in tumor cells and acts as a beacon to the immune system. Then T-cells and B-cells become ‘educated’ on the differences in these tumor cells so that they can identify and attack them.
The technology is unlike chemotherapy, which kills both healthy and unhealthy cells, and can affect the efficacy of other cancer therapies. ImmuneFx takes time – week or even months – to fully attack the tumor because it is using the patient’s own immune system to do so.
The reason Morphogenesis is testing the technology on skin cancer patients in particular, is due to the fact that so much research has already been done on skin cancers like melanoma, allowing for useful comparisons. Skin cancer tumors are also accessible for injection, though Morphogenesis is looking into other ways to insert the compounds into less accessible tumors.
One useful aspect of the technology is that ImmuneFx is “cancer agnostic,” meaning it would not have to be modified to attack other types of cancer. It simply acts as a beacon for tumor cells in general and informs the immune system of their existence and how to identify them. Morphogenesis’ mission is “to change the way chronic diseases are treated by engaging the innate intelligence of the body.”
The shift in recent years to natural medicine and immunity boosters falls in line with such a technology. Certainly, the treatment does not come directly from the forest or one’s backyard, but it employs the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer, rather than to manually remove the cells or expose patients to harmful radiation which can decimate their immune systems.
While so much brainpower is currently focused on the effort to fight COVID-19, people are still suffering from a variety of other medical conditions. Millions of people around the world die of cancer every year. Dr. Lawman refers to ImmuneFx as an “immune modulator,” whereas some have gone so far as to call it a “cancer vaccine.” While the public yearns for anything resembling a vaccine during this unprecedented time in modern history, Dr. Lawman understands that when it comes to medical technology, safety and efficacy are the keys to doing no harm, and those require diligent patience.