Blaze wins NCI funding for 'tumor paint' after successful dog study

Seattle-based Blaze Bioscience has nabbed a $1.5 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to continue researching its product, called Tumor Paint BLZ-100, which will be studied in people with soft tissue sarcoma. The company, co-founded by Jim Olson at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, was awarded the funding based on the successful completion of a trial in 27 pet dogs with various tumor types.

BLZ-100 combines a fluorescent dye with what Blaze calls an "optimized peptide" derived from the venom of the Israeli Deathstalker scorpion. The peptide attaches to a cancer cell, lighting up cancerous tissue to make it easier for surgeons to see and subsequently remove. Ideally, that would increase the odds of survival for patients.

Blaze is focusing on developing the product for use in human oncology but expects there will be opportunities for the technology to be used in veterinary medicine, said Julie Novak, vice president of research and project management at Blaze in an interview with FierceAnimalHealth.

The dog trial included four dogs with sarcomas and one with lung cancer. In one case, the tumor paint reportedly allowed surgeons to avoid amputating a dog's leg. Novak says the dog trial greatly enhanced the understanding of the tumor paint's capabilities beyond what the company gained from early mouse trials.

"Soft tissue sarcoma is quite common in dogs, and the results looked really good," Novak said. "The use of animals that have a naturally occurring tumor is more similar to what's going on in humans. So we see the study in the veterinary setting as a key step for translating it to human clinical studies." Blaze is currently completing a paper about the dog trial for publication.

The veterinary data has already made a world of difference to Blaze. Rather than raising an initial round of venture capital, the company took the dog data to individual investors, eventually scraping up enough seed funding to begin developing the product for use in people. Blaze went on to raise $19 million in venture funding.

The SBIR award is a two-year grant for the Phase II trial in people with soft-tissue sarcomas. In addition to launching the new trial, Blaze recently started testing its tumor paint in patients with brain cancer.

- here's the press release