Oncology player Avelas Biosciences raised $20 million in Series C financing to advance its fluorescent “cancer illuminating” compound into late-stage trials as well as to develop targeted therapies for cancer.
The candidate, AVB-620, is administered intravenously to detect and mark cancer. It is based on activatable cell-penetrating peptides, which have long been known to internalize into cells, but not selectively, Avelas CEO Carmine Stengone told FierceMedicalDevices. Avelas solved this with a masking sequence attached to a protease cleavage linker. That linker cleaved in the presence of enzymes secreted at the tumor site, releasing the peptides into the tumor microenvironment, Stengone said.
AVB-620 has the potential to address an unmet need in breast cancer surgery by allowing the surgeon to scrutinize the surgical cavity for any missed cancer tissue and potentially avoiding future surgeries. Currently, a surgeon relies on sight and feel to distinguish cancerous tissue from healthy tissue, which can lead to leaving tumor tissue behind and necessitating a second surgery. With AVB-620, the surgeon will be able to interrogate the cavity after resection to locate a missed fingerling or satellite lesion, Stengone said.
It is currently in a Phase Ib trial for breast cancer, which will wrap up by summer’s end, Stengone said. Avelas has also achieved preclinical proof of concept in solid cancers, including ovarian, colorectal and head and neck.
As for applying the candidate to targeted therapy, the company is looking into delivering therapeutic cargo, such as cytotoxics to prompt cell death, rather than fluorescent cargo for diagnostic purposes, Stengone said. Avelas is investigating a range of indications, but declined to name them.
The Series C round was led by Pharmstandard International with participation from existing investors WuXi Healthcare Ventures and Avalon, which led the Series B round in 2014 and was also the founding investor. Avelas previously raised $6.85 million in its Series B and $7.65 million in a 2012 Series A financing.
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