Blaze Bioscience, Fred Hutch Spinoff with Zymo Vet at the Helm, Seeks to “Paint” Tumors

10/18/11Follow @xconomy

Heather Franklin had a lot to think about in September 2010. She was a senior vice president at Seattle-based ZymoGenetics, when it agreed to be acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $885 million. Now that the big company was calling the shots, it was time to think about a new move in her career.

Jim Olson, a physician/scientist/entrepreneur at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, sensed opportunity. Franklin’s name kept popping up at local industry events, when he asked people about the best candidates in town to become biotech CEOs. So he started bending her ear over the phone the day of the Zymo-Bristol announcement, September 7, 2010. The message: Here’s a great new technology that can help cancer patients, which needs a seasoned executive like you to help develop it.

“I quizzed him really hard,” Franklin recalls. “I said ‘It’s 2010, and here’s a paper from 2007. What’s happened since 2007?’ He described work that had been done to take something from a research project and really shape it for further development. After seeing Jim’s enthusiasm and vision, I told him I was enthusiastic about it, but needed to kick the tires.”

Olson, who also founded Seattle-based Presage Biosciences, says he was impressed. “When we met two days later, within 10 minutes I knew that this was the person who was best suited to advance Tumor Paint to help cancer patients,” Olson says.

Those original meetings in the fall of 2010 have culminated in a new Seattle biotech company called Blaze Bioscience. Franklin, the former senior vice president of business development at ZymoGenetics, is the CEO. She’s joined by two longtime colleagues from her Zymo days—Julia Novak as the vice president of research and project management, and Mila Lobanova, the vice president of finance and operations. The company has raised its first $725,000 in angel financing, and has an exclusive worldwide license to technology from Olson’s lab at the Hutch.

Heather Franklin

The big idea for the company is to apply molecular “paint” to tumors, to help surgeons clearly see the difference between cancerous and healthy tissues. Currently there’s no way for a surgeon to see in real time during an operation whether he or she has completely cut out a tumor. Physicians today use MRI scans, after a patient has been sewn up, to check to make sure they got the whole tumor out.

Blaze is seeking to go a step further, helping surgeons get a much better idea if whether they have truly gotten rid of the tumor while the operation is ongoing—which is critical in order to help avoid a relapse. It’s made to work by using a peptide molecule that’s attached to a fluorescent molecule. When a surgeon directs a camera and near infrared light into the surgical site, this should provide a clear picture of what tissue is cancerous, and what’s not. After the tumor is removed, the surgeon takes another look with the camera to see if any straggler cancer cells are left behind.

Olson’s lab has tested this concept in mice, and it will still require … Next Page »

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