Aug 17, 2021 - News
Tampa's Morphogenesis wants to cure cancer with an affordable shot
Morphogenesis co-founder Patricia Lawman in the company's lab. Photo courtesy of Morphogenesis

A group of scientists in Tampa is working to make treating cancer as easy as getting a shot.

Why it matters: While most of today's cancer treatments tend to be toxic and expensive, Morphogenesis is working to develop immunotherapies that are safe and affordable.

  • "Affordability is key," co-founder Patricia Lawman told Axios. "If people can’t pay for it, what good is it?"

How it works: The company’s ImmuneFx vaccine uses plasmid DNA to activate new white blood cells in the body that attach to tumors, making them impossible for the immune system to ignore.

  • At the company's Tampa lab between Busch Gardens and the Yuengling brewery, plasmid DNA is grown inside a bacteria before it is then purified, tested and put into vials.

Who’s getting it: People have been receiving Morphogenesis' vaccine as part of trials at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, the University of Southern California, the University of Utah and Harvard’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

  • Fox 13 talked to a Moffitt patient last month whose skin cancer is now in remission, thanks to the vaccine.
  • "We’ve been able to basically rescue them," Lawman said of the patients.

What’s new: The company recently got a grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop a version of the vaccine to treat cervical cancer.

  • Its scientists are working on a vaccine that could be shipped and stored at room temperature and self- administered. That would benefit people in low-income countries who don’t have access to preventative treatments like Gardasil.
  • Lawman says the development toward room-temperature storage is going well. "It’s never been done in my knowledge before," she added.

Fun fact: While trying to raise the funds to get Morphogenesis off the ground, Lawman and her husband and co-founder, Michael, lived on a Key Largo alligator farm, transporting the animals and serving gator bites in the snack shack.

  • In some ways, she says, wrangling alligators was harder than curing cancer. "They’re different stressors," she says.
  • And while alligators may seem more appealing on some days than trying to handle investors, she’s since raised more than $35 million — a huge feat considering only 2.3% of female founders and CEOs raised a comparable amount last year.
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