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Morphotek: Helping the Human Body Protect Itself against Cancer and Other Diseases

People who face ovarian cancer, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer may soon get the ultimate form of revenge against these diseases. Thanks to new treatment possibilities from Morphotek, Inc., cancer patients may be able to use their own immune systems to fight back.


Morphotek is a biotechnology company that specializes in treatment of cancer and inflammatory and infectious diseases. The company’s state-of-the-art robotics laboratory, shown here, greatly increases the efficiency of their testing and development.

Morphotek, a BFTP alumni company, is a biotechnology company that specializes in treatment for cancer and inflammatory and infectious diseases. One of the company’s most promising breakthroughs is a special molecule they call an “antibody” that can actually slow down cancer and ultimately kill tumors.

These antibodies work by recognizing targets on the surface of a cell that are more common in certain types of cancer. Through a complicated process, the antibodies use the body’s own immune system to suppress the growth of tumors and, ultimately, to kill them.

Multiple Products in Development

Currently Morphotek has seven different products in development. The first product, MORAb-003, is in Phase II clinical testing in patients with ovarian cancer, according to Nicholas Nicolaides, CEO. The second product, MORAb-009, is being studied in patients with lung and pancreatic cancer and is presently in a Phase I clinical trial.

Behind that, Morphotek has five additional antibody products that are projected to advance into clinical trials on a half-year basis.

“We have positioned our antibody pipeline to introduce two new antibody compounds into clinical trials per year to get safety data and clinical validation on its efficacy,” Nicolaides says. “We believe that a diverse product portfolio allows us to alleviate risk by having multiple chances at producing regulatory-approved drugs.”

The Power of Partnerships

Since its inception, Morphotek has been able to validate its technology through a series of corporate partnerships and to use its technology internally to develop therapeutic molecules for the company’s own product pipeline.

Morphotek’s May 2005 agreement with GlaxoSmithKline, for example, marked its eighth such agreement overall. The new deal will allow the two companies to work together to create new cell lines with new or improved biological characteristics.

Morphotek has also closed licensing deals with Centocor, Wyeth, Amgen, Abgenix, Tanox, Protein Design Labs and Novo Nordisk. In November 2004, Morphotek received The Technology Company of the Year Award from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce at the Small Business Excellence Awards program.

Help Getting a Leg Up

One of the early factors that helped get Morphotek off the ground in 2000 was support from Ben Franklin Technology Partners. “Their initial investment was $50,000,” says Nicolaides. “While this isn’t a tremendous amount of capital in our business, it was a vote of confidence that drew a series of local and international angel investors to invest two million dollars.” Ben Franklin followed up with another $150,000 in January 2001.

Without that initial support from BFTP, Morphotek would not be where it is today in the development of cancer treatments, according to Nicolaides. “Ben Franklin helped us focus our business plan and refine our pitch to investors. It was an excellent exercise.”

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This article was featured in
Keynotes October, 2006
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