Dr. Riam Shammaa
CEO & Founder, IntelliStem Technologies
Evolution is incredible. It has equipped us with an immune system that’s remarkable in its ability to fend off the multitude of bacteria, viruses, and even micro-cancers that our bodies encounter every day.
But, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, the same forces of mutation and selection that have made our immune system a force to be reckoned with are also responsible for an onslaught of new and more dangerous diseases. We’ve come a long way with small molecule drugs and other therapies, but our most potent tool for winning this war may be unleashing the latent power of the immune system itself.
A new era of stem cell therapy
Stem cell technology and immunotherapy have been on the leading edge of medical research for decades, but a new made-in-Canada innovation is revolutionizing the field. Toronto-based biotechnology firm IntelliStem Technologies has engineered a new breed of stem cells it calls Super Sentinel Cells (SSCs) which are capable of being trained to attack both viruses and cancers. The base technology is an off-the-shelf solution that can then be customized for almost limitless applications.
Mother Nature’s immune code, DNA, is better than any computer or any artificial intelligence.
“Mother Nature’s immune code, DNA, is better than any computer or any artificial intelligence,” says Dr. Riam Shammaa, IntelliStem’s CEO and founder. “So we use that code, and we do an education process on the cells so they can act as detectives and shine a light on cancers or viruses that would otherwise elude the immune system. This is huge in cancer because cancer’s main trick is camouflaging itself from the immune system, but the potential in infectious diseases is also massive.”
IntelliStem has already completed the pre-clinical phase for the treatment of several cancers as well as a potential COVID-19 vaccine. “We’re as close as possible to the clinic right now,” says Dr. Shammaa. “We’ve finalized the animal models and the trial-enabling studies for COVID-19, for melanoma, and for lymphoma. We’re currently working on finalizing the models for breast cancer. Depending on circumstances, things obviously proceed at different speeds.”
Open collaboration means better results
When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine specifically, IntelliStem is doing everything it can to get it into the clinic as soon as possible, though there are many sources of delay that are out of its control. In fact, it has gone so far as to offer its technology for free to the government so they can make use of it. “Obviously, we’re a business and we want to make money, but we’re doctors first,” says Dr. Shammaa. “So, we decided very quickly that we don’t need to profit over the COVID-19 pandemic and that we would happily give away the vaccine patents or collaborate for free to accelerate the speed of development.”
The same spirit of collaboration has driven IntelliStem to create an open platform, known as Intellipeptidome™, that allows other researchers to analyze the learnings of the Super Sentinel Cells and to use that information to develop potentially life-saving treatments in other fields. IntelliStem’s keenest hope is that this will be a first step in the revitalization of the Canadian biotech industry.
“Canada is one of the world’s leading countries academically,” says Dr. Shammaa. “In terms of universities and research, we punch far above our weight. The problem is the lack of support for industry. That’s why so many of our technologies get exported to the U.S. or to China for development, which results in Canadians having to pay more and wait longer for treatments that could have been developed here. If there’s one takeaway for the average Canadian, it’s that we need to urge the federal government to keep innovation in the country.”