Profile: Morphogenesis, Inc.’s  Dr. Michael Lawman, PhD (President) on the 

by | Jan 4, 2021 | Entrepreneurs

Patricia Lawnman, PhD is the Chief Executive Officer of Morphogenesis, Inc. a clinical stage company based in Tampa, Florida developing novel cell and gene therapies. The company’s focus is on utilizing the body’s innate ability to fight chronic disease.

Dr. Patricia Lawman is a Florida Native with roots that stretch back to generations. She is proud of her heritage as her grandmother was a Native American. Lawman grew up in a small town called Chipley, which is located in the Panhandle. Science always made her curious and she loved it. 

That natural gift of science, humor, and curiosity would take her to the University of Florida where she would receive her Bachelor degree in Applied Science in Sociology and Anthropology. Years later, with three children in tow, Lawman would work toward and earn her Master of Agriculture in Plant Pathology/Phytopathology. Although her original intent was to attend Medical School to become a physician, her love of molecular biology would lead her to a PhD from the University of Florida in Immunology and Medical Microbiology. This path would lead her to meet her husband, Michael Lawman, PhD who would eventually become her partner and co-founder of Morphogenesis, Inc.

Dr. Lawman served as Division Director of Cancer Molecular Biology at the Walt Disney Memorial Cancer Institute, where she initiated and led the multifaceted molecular biology, gene targeting, gene therapy, gene delivery, and universal stem cell projects. She was a Ford Foundation Fellow for three years, is an accomplished novelist and for a short time worked on an alligator farm near the Florida Keys. 

Dr. Michael Lawman, PhD has a long and fascinating past, which consisted of one filled with multiple countries and continents. His father was from Wales, UK, and worked for the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF) in South Africa. It is in Africa where his father worked in public affairs creating nature programs for the BBC and was involved in the copper industry. His father met and married a South African woman and it is in Zambia where Dr. Lawman was born. Dr. Lawman spent most of his youth in East Africa—Zimbabwe specifically, where he would receive the majority of his young adult education in a school run by Jesuit Priests. 

Michael moved from Africa to receive his undergraduate through doctorate degrees from the University of Surrey, UK. All of his degrees were earned part-time while working at the Animal Virus Research Institute (The Pirbright Institute) in Guildford. He eventually came to the United States by way of a fellowship at the University of Tennessee where his work switched from animal research to humans. Here he worked with distinguished professor Barry Rouse in genome science and technology, specifically in infectious disease with a focus on viral immunology and immunopathology.

He was recruited by Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine before being recruited to the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine to be an assistant professor. Between those appointments, Michael was recruited to work as a senior scientist in the Division of Immunology and Cytokine Therapeutics of the Veterinary Infectious Disease Organization – (VIDO) of Canada located in Saskatchewan. 

With his return to Florida, Michael began to lean into cloning genes for therapeutic purposes. This led to a cooperative grant to work on swine fever in Plum Island, NY. It was after he worked on this project that he began to get involved with human gene research at the University of Florida. 

All of this work and research would lead him to meet his wife Patricia, who was working in the same field. They both had a passion for gene therapeutics. Both Lawmans left the University of Florida to take positions at the Walt DisneyMemorial Cancer Institute, Michael as the Director of Research, where he headed up a group of 30 people. They built a research lab in the hopes of taking therapeutics from the ideation stage to clinical therapy. He was one of the first people in the world to work on stem cell therapy. His research would find new markers in stem cells which would allow him to manipulate them. Geneticists from all over the world worked on this project. They had developed a potential product with no patents at the time. 

The team took their research and technology to create Morphogenesis, Inc., which was incorporated in 1995. The Lawmans took the company to the biotech incubator at the University of Florida located in the UF Innovation Building. Here, they were able to work on patents and received grants for their research in immunotherapy. They were fully aware that everything they had been working on could be used as therapeutic and saw the immense potential but funding was tight. Three years after arriving, their time at the incubator came to an end.

Down but not out, the founders packed all of their belongings and as much equipment as they could, and moved to Key Largo where they lived in a converted garage on a canal. Patricia’s brother owned an alligator farm in the area, so they spent time working scientifically and otherwise at the farm. 

While working at the alligator farm, Michael’s brother, a banker in the United Kingdom, pitched the business to an investor who was interested in Morphogenesis. With some new funding, Morphogenesis was back in action. The team moved back to the Panhandle, where Patricia would continue to work on Morphogenesis, Inc.’s projects while her husband Michael went to work for St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital as the Director for Pediatric Cancer Research. Morphogenesis eventually rented adjoining lab space, and resumed its research. 

Those years were fruitful, but the company really took off when it moved to Drew Park in Tampa. It was in this space where they began a veterinary oncology business and advanced their cancer immunomodulator program. With the growth of business, both doctors were able to do the work that inspires them— treating cancer and clinical trials. The company’s first human trial was focused on late stage cutaneous melanoma patients. Then, on January 29 of this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed Morphogenesis to expand its human clinical trials using its ImmuneFx (IFx) cancer vaccine technology into two more types of cancer, advanced Merkel Cell Carcinoma and Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Cancer immunotherapies like IFx-Hu2.0 initiate and focus the enormous power of the immune system on the destruction of tumor cells. Morphogenesis’ technology does this in the most effective manner possible. By expressing a bacterial antigen on the surface of a patient’s own tumor cells, IFx-Hu2.0 primes and educates the immune system to destroy tumor cells throughout the body without harming healthy cells and tissues. The company is now preparing IFx-Hu2.0 for further testing in a Phase 2 clinical trial for Stage III/IV unresectable cutaneous melanomas.

On February 17, 2020 Patricia presented a Universal Solution for Personalized Results at NobleCon16—Noble Capital Markets’ Sixteenth Annual Investor Conference at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Hollywood, Florida. Noble Capital Markets (“Noble”) is a research driven boutique investment bank that has supported small & microcap companies since 1984. As a FINRA and SEC licensed broker dealer Noble provides institutional-quality equity research, merchant and investment banking, wealth management and order execution services. In 2005, Noble established NobleCon, an investor conference that has grown substantially over the last decade.

In addition, Morphogenesis has partnered with the University of South Florida Health (USF Health) Taneja College of Pharmacy (TCOP). Morphogenesis envisions a world without needless suffering and has the mission to discover, develop, and deliver innovative immunotherapies for the treatment of patients with cancer. This will be accomplished by working with organizations like the TCOP and meeting the highest scientific and clinical standards.

The affiliation agreement between the TCOP and Morphogenesis paves the way for a number of new educational, scientific, and clinical endeavors, including graduate internships for Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology (MSPN) students, advanced experiential learning opportunities for Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students, and pre-clinical and clinical research collaborations. 

Morphogenesis, Inc. will also serve as the Co-Chair of the TCOP Industry Advisory Board alongside Dr. Shyam S. Mohapatra, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at the TCOP. As an additional point of pride, the team includes one of the TCOP’s own alumni, Dr. Christopher E. Konig, Pharm.D., who serves as the Regulatory Affairs Manager at Morphogenesis. “The TCOP is pioneering this effort with biopharmaceutical companies, especially here in Tampa Bay. 

The state of the art USF Health in Water Street Tampa building is the new home of the Morsani College of Medicine, TCOP, and Heart Institute, where physicians, pharmacists, and scientists of tomorrow will be trained together. Here, this new partnership with Morphogenesis creates an unprecedented opportunity to enrich interdisciplinary learning and forge a strong biopharmaceutical industry bond. 

To add, on August 17 2020, Morphogenesis, Inc., successfully completed its company’s first-in-human Phase 1 clinical trial for its cancer immunotherapeutic (IFx-Hu2.0). During the course of the trial, the investigational product was well tolerated and patient follow-ups demonstrated no noteworthy safety issues directly related to the therapy.

This important trial will serve as the foundation for Morphogenesis’ transition into later phase clinical trials that further study the efficacy of IFx-Hu2.0. Phase 1’s completion and success is positive news for patients as well as Morphogenesis, Inc. as it looks forward to furthering its clinical development goals. 

Overall, this study and the continued achievements of Morphogenesis, Inc. marks a significant advancement of Tampa Bay businesses, especially biotech initiatives. This has the potential to drive future funding for successive phases of clinical development. 

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