Angel investors ante up $9M to fuel Blaze's early-stage program for 'tumor paint'

Blaze Bioscience CEO and cofounder Heather Franklin

Seattle-based Blaze Bioscience has rounded up $9 million in venture cash from a wide circle of angel investors willing to back the biotech's push into the clinic with its first "tumor paint" product.

Blaze, the brainchild of Jim Olson at the Fred Hutch, is getting ready to ramp up its first clinical study of BLZ-100. CEO and cofounder Heather Franklin says the new injection of cash will pay for the Phase I study along with some follow-up early stage efforts as they set the stage for mid-stage development of the product.

This second round brings Blaze's total raise to $19 million.

The product marries an Optide--what Blaze calls its brand of optimized peptides--and a fluorescent dye. The Optide is designed to attach to a cancer cell and illuminate the cancerous tissue for surgical removal, upping the odds of survival for patients.

Franklin says that rather than take the traditional route of a venture round, looking for a few big investors to back the company, she went back to the ranks of individual investors who seeded the company to begin with. Armed with successful animal data from a study of dogs with cancer, she found about 70 investors willing to pay for this next stage of development.

"There are some logistical issues," says Franklin, "but I really enjoyed it. I developed a relationship with each and every one of them."

The key for this second round was the animal data, says the CEO. A total of 27 dogs with cancer took part in the study after their owners gave investigators written permission. The group included four dogs with sarcomas and one with lung cancer.

"You don't usually see that," says Franklin about the canine lung cancer case. And in one case investigators were able to save a dog's leg, rather than leave it with only three to hobble on.

The Phase I trial will focus on skin cancer, with investigators in Australia trying it out in a dose escalation study. A success here would set the company on course for additional fundraising, and Franklin says she has high hopes of partnering with another company in 2014.

- here's the press release