Avelas draws $7.65M for breast cancer Dx imaging agent

Avelas Biosciences, a diagnostic imaging agent startup founded three years ago, raised $7.65 million in Series A funding intended to advance clinical studies of its signature product.

The technology has some serious cachet behind it. Roger Y. Tsien, a 2008 Nobel laureate in chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, came up with the core concept (and another in vivo imaging iteration also licensed by the company). Avalon Ventures is the company's sole investor thus far, and Jay Lichter, an Avalon managing director, is Avelas' CEO, according to the company's website.

Dubbed the Avelas Cancer Illuminator, or ACI, the agent is intended to help visualize cancerous lymph nodes for breast cancer patients. The substance--a fluorescent peptide--changes color when near proteases, enzymes found within cancerous tumors. It's designed to be used in combination with a fluorescence imaging system during surgery, during which it generates a color-coded image that is superimposed onto the regular surgical view in order to zero in on the cancer, according to the company. By allowing for real-time visualization of lymph node metastases and possibly the primary tumor itself, the agent could help surgeons more easily stage a cancer and improve overall treatment.

So far, ACI has just been tested in preclinical trials, but the results have been encouraging. According to the company, the agent detected a number of breast cancer metastases in rodent studies and in the lab using human breast cancer patient tissue.

While the diagnostic imaging agent would be regulated as a drug, interest in improved breast cancer imaging technology crosses over into the device world. GE Healthcare ($GE), for example, recently snatched up U-Systems, a California developer of a breast cancer ultrasound imaging system targeted specifically to dense breast tissue.

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