There’s a curious little molecule called
psoralen – it’s a naturally occurring compound in many plants, and that
compound is inert until it sees a wavelength of ultraviolet light.
When it sees ultraviolet light, the compound gets activated and it seems to
engender a rather profound immune response. Immunolight really started
with the notion of “Let’s see if we can engender that immune response inside of
a solid tumor.” Duke University has a great interdisciplinary structure.
They’ve got ways to have doctors talk to engineers talk to scientists, and we
needed that to make this successful. And they made some major breakthroughs that
I don’t think would have happened if we focused the research in one discipline. Neal Spector who is an oncologist at Duke he said this was the first idea
that he had heard of that he thought really had the potential of doing
something very significant in this disease. SPECTOR: I first became involved in
Immunolight at the very inception of the project to take external energy and
hit a particle inside the body convert it to another form of energy and
then utilize that to kill tumor cells and even further create an anti-tumor
immune response so you would get ideally this systemic vaccination against a cancer.
I mean, it sounds almost too good to be true. The problem is ultraviolet
light can’t penetrate the skin or tissue or virtually any material.
So we innovated a way to take energies that can penetrate, like x-ray or microwave or
radio wave, and convert that energy inside the tumor to a wavelength that
can activate the drug. Once it’s activated in the tumor our hope is that
we’ll see this profound immune response and that could be game-changing. We had tremendous help and facilitation of the research, which I think was also
critical for the success of this project. It’s been a great experience seeing all
these departments working together and helping each other out.
Otherwise this would have never happened. Now I think we’re on the verge of something
really big and hopefully transformative.