Upstart Blaze banks $8.5M A round for new cancer surgery tech

Seattle-based startup Blaze Bioscience has nailed an $8.5 million A round, giving it the money it needs to hire on a pair of key players, lease a new lab and headquarters space and prep its lead imaging product for the clinic.

Blaze is the brainchild of company co-founder Jim Olson, an investigator at the prestigious Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Using a genetically engineered peptide, the company developed BLZ-100 to bind to cancer cells and "paint" them with a fluorescent beacon. The big idea here is that surgeons should be able to clearly distinguish cancerous tissue so it can be fully cut out, leaving little or nothing behind that could reignite the cancer later, forcing a new procedure or the use of chemotherapy.

The biotech says it can get its lead program ready for its first clinical study before the end of the year. And it now has two new hires, expanding the staff to a lean-and-mean group of 9. Dennis Miller, the former head of research at ZymoGenetics, has climbed aboard as senior vice president of development, and Claudia Jochheim, a Seattle Genetics ($SGEN) veteran, has joined the company as senior director of process development and manufacturing.

The plan right now is to look for a clean safety profile and the right imaging dose in Phase I and then nail down proof-of-concept data in about three years, says CEO and co-founder Heather Franklin, also a ZymoGenetics veteran. 

After that, the company could partner the program out to a large company capable of commercializing a product which she believes is capable of earning up to a billion dollars--provided it can demonstrate efficacy in a broad range of tumors--or look for an exit.

Like a number of new upstarts, Blaze has pieced its financing from multiple individual investors, rather than try to go the venture capital path. 

Blaze initially set out to leave "no stone unturned" in its pursuit of financial backing, notes Franklin. "We looked at both routes and we had some really good conversations with venture capital companies." Heading into the valley of death, though, wasn't appealing to many VCs. And after the first high net worth investor signed on, it became easier to round up dozens of additional individual investors in Seattle's tight-knit biotech community.

- here's the press release

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