(Page 2 of 2)
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.
Of course, that’s not as simple as it sounds. Blaze has sought to make sure it can make a consistent product at increasing scale as it moves through clinical trials, so it hired Claudia Jochheim as its new senior director of process development and manufacturing.
Jochheim previously worked at Seattle Genetics, where she was involved in moving a novel cancer drug linked to a toxin—brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris)—from development to the market. Jochheim has helped Blaze scale up its manufacturing process 100-fold, which is necessary if Blaze is going to evolve from a research project into a company, Franklin says.
“We’re at a scale now that can lead us through mid-stage studies,” Franklin says.
Another key addition to the Blaze team is Dennis Miller, the new senior vice president of development. Miller, like Franklin, is a veteran of ZymoGenetics, which was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $885 million in 2010. Miller has been involved in preclinical and clinical development of more than 20 different drug candidates, Franklin says.
Blaze is staying small, with a team of just nine employees, Franklin says. The company has established labs and offices at the Fairview Research Center in Seattle, which makes it neighbors with Novo Nordisk and NanoString Technologies. Blaze isn’t doing its manufacturing there, as it relies on contract manufacturers, Franklin says.
The $8.5 million financing should be enough to take Blaze through what it considers “proof of principle” in clinical trials, Franklin says.
Blaze isn’t the only group seeking to test a concept around tumor illumination for surgery. A competing company called Avelas Biosciences, from the UC San Diego lab of Nobel laureate Roger Tsien, raised $7.65 million in December from Avalon Ventures. Avalon partner Jay Lichter told my Xconomy colleague Bruce Bigelow in December that the company should be able to complete its first application to begin clinical trials “in a few months.”
For a closer look at the concept Blaze is pursuing, check this 3-minute documentary starring Blaze founder Jim Olson, and directed by local filmmakers Bert Klasey, Chris Baron, and James Allen Smith. The film was honored last year as an “audience favorite” at the Sundance Film Festival.