Dr. Patricia Lawson founded Morphogenesis with her husband back in 1995.
Medtech startups must play by a different set of standards than others in the tech world.
There’s no speeding up product development (if you exclude the extraordinary case of the Covid-19 vaccine, that is). Any tech that’s developed must be rigorously tested, and released only when the product or process has been perfected.
After all, when you’re working in medtech, you’re working with very high stakes, to preserve people’s health and save lives.
One medtech immunotherapy company called Morphogenesis in Tampa, Florida is currently working on one of the highest-stakes medical issues of all: treating cancer.
The husband-and-wife team who founded the company, Drs. Michael and Patricia Lawman, began working on their research for their new cancer treatment, ImmuneFX, back in 1995. As is usually the case with medical research, it took time to get funding, to develop and test initial therapies, and finally to get FDA approval for a clinical trial in humans—which Morphogenesis achieved this year.
In the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, where the quickest, hottest startups get all the attention, it’s important to remember the value of playing the long game. I spoke with Dr. Patricia Lawman recently about how Morphogenesis has developed over the years.
Shama Hyder: What are your and your husband’s medical backgrounds, and what drove you to start Morphogenesis?
Dr. Patricia Lawman: My background is in medical microbiology, immunology, and molecular biology, while Michael’s expertise is in veterinary infectious diseases, cell biology and immunology. We were driven to do science that translated into something tangible—something that would ultimately help people or animals, or both.
Hyder: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as you’ve grown Morphogenesis?
Lawman: The overriding question has always been ‘how do we fund this?’ How do we gain traction as a small biotech company in Florida?
The scientific answers have always come easy. We have a hypothesis—we test it. We have a technical issue—we work until we solve it. We have limited expertise or infrastructure—we find world-class collaborators, as we did when we began work with the Karolinska Institute. We need products for clinical trials—we make them. The funding element is always what’s hardest to overcome.
Hyder: What were some of the initial products that Morphogenesis created?
Lawman: We provided vaccines for veterinarians for a number of years for treating naturally occurring cancers in dogs, cats, and horses. Finally being able to test our product in people with a very serious disease is a huge milestone, and very rewarding.
Hyder: Tell me about your cancer therapy, ImmuneFX.
Lawman: ImmuneFx is an immunomodulator, which takes advantage of the innate ability of the immune system to kill cancer cells.
One of the beauties of ImmuneFx is that while it is “off-the-shelf“ and can be used to treat just about any type of cancer, once it is injected into a patient’s tumor, it exposes most, if not all, that person’s abnormal antigens. We don’t even need to know what the targets are. As long as the immune system distinguishes them as different from normal antigens, they become targets for destruction. This has been born out in patients who have received ImmuneFx. Without exception, the immune systems of these patients were trained to recognize what has turned out to be hundreds of tumor peptides as a result of ImmuneFx.
Hyder: Aside from the business challenges you mentioned, what are some of the biggest challenges facing medtech and biotech research startups going forward?
Lawman: One of the biggest issues facing medicine today is the problem of delivery: how do you get your product to the location in the body where it will do the most good and the least harm? The majority of the research and development Morphogenesis will be doing in the near-term will be devoted to answering this question.
Medtech and biotech entrepreneurs face a long and difficult path, but the rewards can be massive—like developing a life-saving therapy. It’s up to those in the venture capital and funding arenas to provide what these companies need to do their labor-intensive and long-term work. Given the funding, there’s no telling what companies like Morphogenesis are capable of.
Source by www.forbes.com