Avelas Biosciences wraps $7.65M funding to advance real-time tumor visualization technology

Biotechnology developer Avelas Biosciences (La Jolla, CA) has closed a $7.65 million Series A round of funding, which will be used by the company to advance its Avelas Cancer Illuminator (ACI), a proprietary fluorescent peptide, towards clinical studies for visualizing cancerous lymph nodes in breast cancer patients. The company is funded by Avalon Ventures and founded on technology generated by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Roger Tsien, Ph.D.

Avelas' ACI technology allows for real-time diagnosis of metastatic nodes, thus allowing surgeons to make a decision to remove additional nodes during the first surgery as opposed to waiting for pathology reports and undergoing a subsequent surgical procedure. Even in those cases where intraoperative pathology is used, the process is time-consuming, potentially adding 40 minutes to the duration of the procedure.

The Avelas Cancer Illuminator (ACI) uses enzyme activity to visualize breast cancer that has metastasized to mouse lymph nodes
The Avelas Cancer Illuminator (ACI) uses enzyme activity to visualize breast cancer that has metastasized to mouse lymph nodes. The ACI generates a fluorescence signal that provides real-time cancer imaging in the surgical field. A metastatic lymph node (red arrow) has a high fluorescence signal, indicated by red color, compared to cancer-free nodes (blue arrows) that have a low signal and are blue. ACI technology has the potential to provide the surgeon a real-time map of cancerous tissue during surgery. (Image courtesy of PRNewsFoto/Avelas Biosciences)

ACI utilizes the increased activity of enzymes called proteases that occur in tumors and metastases. The fluorescent peptide changes color in the presence of pathological protease activity, thereby marking the cancerous tissue. When used in conjunction with a fluorescence imaging camera system during surgery, a color-coded image showing cancerous tissue is superimposed onto the normal surgical view, providing the surgeon a map of the cancer location.

In preclinical studies, ACI has demonstrated high in-vivo diagnostic sensitivity and specificity for detecting multiple rodent breast cancer metastases in lymph nodes and in ex-vivo studies with human breast cancer patient tissue. By enabling real-time visualization of lymph node metastases and, potentially the primary tumor, in breast cancer, ACI has the potential to significantly improve surgical staging and decrease cancer-positive margins, the presence of which leads to reoperations.

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