Blaze Bioscience kicks off pivotal trial for brain tumor-illumination tech

Blaze Bioscience's tumor-illuminating molecule emits near-infrared light in cancerous tissue, but not healthy tissue, thanks to a peptide originally found in scorpion venom. (Alastair Rae CC BY-SA 2.0)

Blaze Bioscience has enrolled the first patient in a pivotal phase 2/3 trial of its scorpion venom-based “tumor paint,” a fluorescent molecule that homes in on cancer cells and illuminates them, making it easier for surgeons working to remove brain tumors. 

The tumor paint could help surgeons remove more tumor tissue without sacrificing healthy tissue. It is based on a “mini-protein” found in the deathstalker scorpion that “happens to bind to cancer cells but not normal tissues,” said Blaze Bioscience cofounder Jim Olson, M.D., a pediatric neuro-oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital, in a video.

This peptide’s affinity for cancer cells isn’t fully understood, but Blaze has attached a fluorescent dye—little molecular flashlights, in Olson’s words—to a synthesized version of it to create a molecule that emits near-infrared light in tumors. 

The new study will test the safety and efficacy of Blaze’s lead “tumor paint,” dubbed BLZ-100, as well as the Canvas Imaging System, which detects near-infrared light in the operating room. It will enroll 114 patients with primary central nervous system tumors, the company said in a statement. The first patient was enrolled in Blaze’s native Seattle, but the trial will take place at 15 U.S. sites that are part of the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium (PNOC). 

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“Successful neurosurgery means maximizing safe removal of tumor tissue while minimizing damage to healthy brain, and we see a great opportunity to improve outcome if we can put better tools in the expert hands of our surgeons to help them distinguish tumor from non-tumor. We are so excited to be evaluating BLZ-100 as potentially the first tumor-targeted imaging agent for pediatric brain tumors,” said Sarah Leary, M.D., of Seattle Children’s Hospital, the PNOC study chair for the trial. 

"The CDC reports that brain cancer is the number one cancer killer of children, making this a compelling place to start," said Blaze Bioscience CEO Heather Franklin, in the statement. 

The standard treatments for brain cancers depend on several factors and can include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Researchers are working on new approaches that could improve treatment for adults and children with brain cancer. Last year, a Stanford University team found that a new antibody targeted cancer cells and shrank five different types of tumors in mouse models of childhood brain cancer. And in April, scientists at the University of São Paulo in Brazil discovered that the Zika virus—linked to the birth defect microcephaly—reduced the size of two types of central nervous system tumors that tend to occur in children under age 5.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a new quote from Sarah Leary, M.D.