Bright Idea: Making the Case for 'Tumor Paint'

Blaze Bioscience's brilliant concept in the fight against cancer.
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A neurosurgeon stands over a 12-year-old cancer patient in the operating room, scalpel in hand. It is unclear exactly which cells in the child’s brain are part of a cancerous tumor and which are healthy. Does the surgeon choose to remove all suspicious tissue or play it safe by removing less?

With Dr. James Olson’s Tumor Paint, surgeons can see cancerous tissue during the operation, sparing them from having to choose between going too far and not far enough. Olson’s solution consists of a fluorescent beacon attached to a peptide derived from scorpion toxin that latches onto cancer cells’ receptors. The technology is administered via injection, and surgeons use a near infrared camera to see the cancerous tissue in real time and at much higher resolution than MRI technology can provide.

Olson, a pediatric neuro-oncologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, developed and patented Tumor Paint at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) in 2007. Time magazine that year called it “an innovative way of giving surgeons the upper hand against these wily tumors.”

In 2010, Heather Franklin, formerly senior vice president of business development and alliance management at ZymoGenetics, joined Olson in launching Blaze Bioscience to commercialize the technology, which the firm licensed from FHCRC last year. Franklin, who is president and CEO, lured former ZymoGenetics colleagues Julia Novak and Mila Lobanova, as VP/research and project management and VP/finance and operations, respectively, to the endeavor.

Blaze Bioscience recently raised $5 million in Series A financing to put Tumor Paint through further development. “This funding is a significant milestone,” Franklin says. “It will allow the company to transition from the seed stage to full execution mode.”

Olson, meanwhile, is happy to think of what it may mean to anyone facing treatment for solid cancer tumors. “We’re pleased to have raised the capital to move Tumor Paint forward,” he says, “and we remain inspired by the needs of the pediatric brain cancer patients for whom the technology was developed.”

Franklin says clinical trials could begin next year.

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