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Avelas Closes Round, Advancing Biologic That Illuminates Breast Cancer

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego’s Avelas Biosciences, which is developing a fluorescing peptide to illuminate cancerous tissue during breast surgery, says today it has closed the second tranche of its Series B round, bringing total funds raised in the round to $7.4 million.

Avelas says the capital will be used to move toward a first-in-human study in breast cancer surgery patients for AVB-620, an in vivo fluorescent protease-activated peptide that is its lead product candidate. The company says AVB-620 is expected to enter clinical studies later this year.

Protease activity is high in tumors and metastases, so a peptide that glows in the presence of high protease activity can be used to differentiate healthy tissue from cancerous tissue. The technology was developed by Roger Tsien, a biochemist at UC San Diego who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his role in the discovery and development of green fluorescent protein.

Avelas Biosciences

Roger Tsien with tubes of fluorescing peptides (courtesy Tsien lab/UCSD)

Tsien founded Avelas in 2009 with Kevin Kinsella, the founder of San Diego-based Avalon Ventures.

Avelas says AVB-620 would be administered to patients intravenously before surgery. A fluorescence imaging camera system can then be used during surgery to light up cancerous areas and help surgeons decide what tissue should be excised. In preclinical testing, the accuracy of AVB-620 in the body is better than 95 percent, according to the company.

San Diego’s Avalon Ventures participated in the latest venture round, along with existing investors Torrey Pines Investment, WuXi PharmaTech Investments, and other unnamed investors.