Seattle biotech company Blaze Bioscience has raised $5 million in funding as it pursues a pivotal trial for its “Tumor Paint,” a molecule that binds to cancer cells and lights them up to help brain surgeons remove tumors. The money is the first tranche of a larger round that could reach $20 million.
Blaze is testing the technology on children with central nervous system tumors at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where it enrolled its first patient last fall. The company decided to concentrate on pediatric neurosurgery because it filled an unmet need, said Blaze co-founder and CEO Heather Franklin.
“Brain cancer is the number one killer of kids with cancer,” Franklin said. “[Tumor Paint] allows the surgeon to cut out all of the tumor, but it also allows them to not cut out normal tissue. And you can imagine, in a child’s brain that’s really critical.”
More than 4,000 children are diagnosed with brain or central nervous system tumors each year, making them the second most common cancers in children after leukemia.
Brain cancer in children was also a natural fit for Franklin’s co-founder, Dr. Jim Olson, a brain cancer researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Tumor Paint was created using a peptide, basically a small protein, from the Israeli deathstalker scorpion. But Franklin is quick to point out that the formula is entirely synthetic.
“No scorpions are harmed in the making of our products,” she joked.
The company’s Tumor Paint, also called tozuleristide or BLZ-100, is being evaluated in a phase 2/3 clinical trial. In the phase 1 study of Tumor Paint, 80 percent tumors “lit up” safely.
The company, which launched in 2011, hasn’t made major changes to its core technology in recent years. Franklin said the difficult part has been creating hardware that works with existing surgical microscopes.
“We’ve got the right drug with right properties,” Franklin said. “We need to make sure surgeons have the right devices to see them.” To accomplish that, Blaze acquired medical device company Teal Light Surgical and its Canvas Imaging System.
The company aims to expand its trial to treat 114 patients across up to 14 other sites this year. Blaze has 17 employees, 14 of them women, and has raised $40 million to date.
Below is an account from a Danica Taylor, one of the children who participated in the trial.