September 24, 2020

[Cayman Islands] Local investors find great hope in personalized cancer treatment


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54bb4b8acd82b.imageBy Gene Zaleski From The Times and Democrat
Orangeburg businessman Jim Roquemore has been involved in a number of ventures including banking, agribusiness and the Boy Scouts.

The chief executive officer and chairman of Patten Seed Company, the parent company of SuperSod, has a lengthy resume.

Now he has added the position of chairman of Orbis Health Solutions, a Greenville-based medical research firm developing and marketing vaccines for cancer patients.

“It is not a field I know much about,” Roquemore said. “But I am used to growing things and making things grow. The difference between plants and animals is not that great. The scientific side always fascinated me and made sense to me.”

Orbis was founded in 2009 by Dr. Thomas Wagner after 12 years of research toward the development of therapeutic vaccines for the treatment of solid tumors.

The specific medicine is an immunotherapy treatment and involves injecting patients with a vaccine made from their own tumor cells. Patients receive four shots at one-month intervals.

The vaccine is designed to be an alternative to chemotherapy, which can sicken patients. Wagner said patients that have used the vaccine have only reported mild flu-like symptoms.

The vaccine has received Federal Drug Administration approval for Phase 2B trials to determine how well the treatment works at prescribed doses.

Despite receiving FDA approval for each step of the clinical trials, the vaccine is believed to be about three years away from being introduced officially into the United States.

Roquemore’s duties as chairman focus on administration, organization and management — all areas where he has much to offer. The board consists of six members with plans to possibly expand to two additional members in the future.

Roquemore said he was first introduced to Wagner in late 2010 through a business partner.

“Dr. Wagner has a way to make the complex simple,” Roquemore said. “To be involved with something to save people’s lives without any side effects is something I wanted to be a part of.”

Roquemore said he is most impressed with Wagner’s philosophy.

“He did not care anything about the money,” Roquemore said. “He cared about developing research and helping people.”

Roquemore’s involvement is also personal.

“My grandmother died of cancer and my wife’s mother died of cancer at the age of 47,” Roquemore said.

Seeing the potential to do good, Roquemore bought stock in Orbis in 2011. Since then, 40 members of his family have as well.

“What would you rather do: go to Caymans and take the treatment that has a pretty good chance of working and if it does not work then to take chemo and radiation or take chemo and radiation first and get sick?” Roquemore said. “It sounds like a no-brainer to me.”

Roquemore is one of a handful of investors from the Orangeburg area.

Bowman dairy farmer Archie Felder says at the age of 60 he is always willing to explore new opportunities.

In 2014, Orbis was one of them.

“It is interesting,” Felder said, noting Wagner’s research excites him. “To me, that is cutting edge.”

Felder says several of his friends have suffered under the burdens of chemotherapy and radiation. He does not want to see anyone having to do the same.

“This technology is less invasive on your body,” Felder said, noting he is sold on the vaccine. He said, “This is not 100 percent all the time, but it has worked pretty darn good.”

Bowman dairy farmer and South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers said he first heard about Orbis from state agribusinessman Bill Amick, who passed away from cancer over a year ago.

“The treatment he took extended his life considerably and he said if the vaccine was an option he had known about sooner, it could have done great things,” Weathers said.

As a friend of Roquemore’s and seeing his enthusiasm about the prospects, Weathers said he and his wife wholeheartedly embraced the endeavor.

Late last summer, Weathers decided to become an investor.

“Hopefully down the road we can look back on it and have a great sense that you had a part in something bigger than we normally do every day,” Weathers said.

Wagner, 72, says cancer starts in each person about ten times a day though is naturally treated by bodily processes. While some drugs interfere with that treatment, the vaccine is supposed to enhance it.

He is no stranger to cancer research, having received his first cancer grant at the age of 19.

“That was an era when we began understanding the process of molecular biology and how molecules interact with each other to create life,” Wagner said. “Cancer was one of the most devastating diseases on earth. It was the result of molecular problems.”

Unlike most vaccines which are produced en masse, Wagner said the vaccine uses a person’s own cells — making it much more effective.

“Immune systems are specific from person to person,” he said. But the method, “does not fit with the business model of pharmaceutical companies.”

The vaccine has already proven beneficial, Wagner said.

He said between 50 and 60 patients have been treated with the vaccine.

“Our longest surviving patient will be 12 years from Christmastime,” Wagner said.

Seeing its success, Wagner opened a clinic in the Cayman Islands in March 2013.

The clinic — Perseus PCI (Personalized Cancer Immunization) — has started accepting patients. Perseus is a wholly-owned subsidiary and serves as a treatment arm of Orbis.

Wagner has defended his decision to go offshore, saying the Cayman Islands’ health practices are regulated and meet and even exceed FDA standards.

Insurance does not cover treatment at the Perseus clinic, which can cost between $25,000 and $50,000.

“It depends on the type of tumor,” Orbis Health Solutions President Riley Polk said, noting he does not anticipate any insurance plans will cover the treatment in the near future. The vaccine has received insurance approval for Cayman residents.

Polk said there are no immediate plans to open another overseas clinic.
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