Treatment for cancer showing results in first human trials

Published on November 25, 2019

A cure for cancer with little-to-no side effects seems like something you would see on a Sci-Fi movie. One prick and you are freed from a disease that in our world causes numerous people to suffer everyday. 

In Florida alone in 2016, 119,408 new cases of cancer were reported and 44,266 people died of cancer, according to the CDC.

It may sound like a Sci-Fi movie, but Dr. Patricia Lawman and her team at Morphogenesis think that they have created a vaccine-like treatment that does just that.

How it works

“We take a single bacterial gene and inject it into the patient’s tumor cells and then what happens is this bacterial protein is expressed on the first surface of the tumor cell so it actually primes a very broad immune response to what otherwise would look like to the immune system a normal cell,” said Lawman. 

She said that although she doesn’t expect this to be a “magic bullet” for all cancer patients and types of cancer, from what they have seen so far it looks promising.

Right now, Lawman and her team are conducting their first human trials with only three people having received the treatment so far. 

“Three human patients have received our vaccine so far and we’re testing in cutaneous, unresectable, stage three and four melanoma and then we’re about to expand the indications into other non-melanoma skin cancers,” said Lawman. 

All three of the patients have responded to this treatment where all of the other treatments that they have had failed. 

The human trials are in their infancy but on “companion animals” or pets this treatment has been administered over 3,000 times.

Animals given the vaccine already had naturally-occurring cancer. Lawman said the treatment worked exactly as planned in these animals.

Not all of them responded in the same way due to the drastic differences in their conditions but everything that did occur was as expected. 

In the animals as well the only recorded side effect was injection-site redness. 

The team’s journey

Opening “clinical sites” to continue human trials will be their biggest challenge moving forward. Lawman said the paperwork, logistical framework and creating the doses of the treatment are underway and have proved quite difficult.

She said that the research behind this treatment has been in the works since the 90s. As the co-founder and CEO of Morphogenesis she said that their biggest problem has been acquiring enough funding to continue this research and see it through. 

She said that their biggest help in this endeavor is Dr. Kiran Patel. He has aided the company by first investing in the company and then finding funding in the Tampa Bay area. 

With the cost of clinical trials, though, Lawman said that they were looking for larger institutional funding rather than relying on smaller investors. 

“We’re driven by our own internal carrots and sticks and we really want to make this happen and that’s the only way that this small company has been able to do what it has been able to do with the funding that its had.”

Lawman added that she couldn’t speak more highly of her team and all of their hard work and determination in this process. 

As of right now there are just 16 people working to create this Sci-Fi idea soon to come to life. 

“Anyone [on the team] is willing to step up and put on a different hat at any time of the day that’s one of the things about a small biotech company, you have to be flexible, you have to think out of the box, you have to do things differently that maybe other companies with lots of money would have done them,” she said. 

Moving forward

She said that although they are very excited about the success of this vaccine, they are also looking forward to the future where they want to create a new version of the treatment using MRNA instead of plasma DNA. MRNA stands for messenger RiboNucleic Acid. 

The MRNA will allow the Morphogenesis team to create a more synthetic and there for uniformly reproducible product. This MRNA version will also work faster to break down the tumor cells and is safer.

Sarah Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Tampa, Florida, she primarily covers new tech and events.

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