Blaze Bioscience Snags $9M More to Take “Tumor Paint” to the Clinic

Xconomy Seattle — 

Seattle-based Blaze Bioscience, the company making “tumor paint” so surgeons can tell the difference between healthy tissue and tumors that should be removed, just raised another $9 million to see if its technology is legit.

The company pulled in the Series B financing from its existing investor network of about 70 high net-worth individuals, and a few more friends, said Blaze CEO Heather Franklin. The company, a spinout from Jim Olson’s lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has now raised about $19 million since its founding in 2010.

Blaze, which now has 13 employees, secured the cash after hitting its preclinical goals and putting itself in position to start its first clinical trial before the end of the year, on schedule. The new money provides enough cash for Blaze to run the next couple years, to complete its first clinical trial in Australia, and to prepare for the next step in clinical development in the U.S., Franklin said.

“Our current investors basically said, ‘You’re getting everything done, it’s looking good, what more do you need to be successful?’” Franklin said.

Blaze’s lead product candidate, called BLZ-100, is made up of a genetically engineered peptide that’s supposed to bind with a number of different tumor types. That peptide is chemically linked to a fluorescent beacon. The idea is that when the combination molecule gets injected into a surgical site, a surgeon should be able to see tumor tissue that’s lit up, next to healthy tissue that isn’t, with the help of a fluorescent imaging camera.

Heather Franklin, CEO of Blaze Bioscience

Heather Franklin, CEO of Blaze Bioscience

The idea is that if surgeons can see clearly what they’re supposed to cut out during surgery, then they’re less likely to leave behind bits of tumor that can contribute to a relapse. At least in theory, it should also make it easier for surgeons to avoid hitting healthy tissues that might cause side effects for patients.

Blaze’s closest competitor is San Diego-based Avelas Biosciences, which is developing what it calls the “Avelas Cancer Illuminator.” We last reported on that company a year ago, when it raised $7.65 million in financing from Avalon Ventures.

Besides the original “tumor paint” work, Blaze took a step toward diversification this past year when it struck a new licensing agreement with the Hutchinson Center. That deal gave Blaze the development rights to additional peptide molecules from the Hutch that may have usefulness not just for “tumor paint” but as therapies on their own.