As you may know, I’m a huge fan of the television news program, “CBS Sunday Morning,” because its coverage is often quite intriguing. Recently I watched an entire episode focused on advancements in cancer therapy.1 As an oncology provider, I was already familiar with much of the information, but one segment completely stopped me in my tracks.
The reporter interviewed Jim Olson, MD, PhD, a pediatric neuro-oncologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and brain tumor researcher with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Dr. Olson described his team’s studies of the Israeli deathstalker scorpion (say what?!), explaining how this creepy creature’s venom, chlorotoxin, naturally targets brain cancer cells with very high affinity, ultimately paralyzing the animal’s victim.1
Through the biotech company he founded in 2010, Blaze Bioscience, Inc., Dr. Olson and his team have developed what they call Tumor Paint™, or BLZ-100 (tozuleristide). They have essentially produced an optide,2 or optimized peptide—a synthetic version of the venom but minus the poison—and tagged it with a dye that fluoresces under near-infrared light. When injected intravenously into the patient, the glowing “paint” attaches to cancer cells, making them light up during surgery so they become easily distinguishable from healthy tissue.1,2
The idea of “painting” tumors was borne from the frustration felt by neurosurgeons over the frequent difficulty in distinguishing cancerous from healthy tissue during brain tumor removal. The researchers hope that this biotechnology could decrease the need for second surgeries due to residual cancer cells being left behind—and more importantly, improve overall survival.1
The first in-human study of BLZ-100 was initiated in late 2013, in patients with skin cancer,3 and in 2015 the agent received orphan drug designation from the US Food and Drug Administration for brain cancer.4 Phase I clinical trials of BLZ-100 are now underway in glioma and breast cancer. Information on the Blaze Bioscience website (www.blazebioscience.com) indicates that the agent may also be useful in the management of other solid cancers, including prostate, lung, and colorectal tumors. It is possible that BLZ-100 could be approved by the FDA in 2019, Dr. Olsen said.1
1. Scorpion venom as cancer treatment [transcript]. On the Horizon. CBS News. March 12, 2017. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/on-the-horizon-scorpion-venom-as-cancer-treatment-tumor-paint/. Accessed October 12, 2017.
2. Optides: a revolution in cancer medicine [news release]. Seattle, WA: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. https://www.fredhutch.org/en/treatment/treatment-research/optides.html Accessed October 12, 2017.
3. Blaze Bioscience announces initiation of first-in-human phase 1 clinical study of BLZ-100: Tumor Painttm technology enters clinical stage of development [news release]. Seattle, WA, USA, and Melbourne, VIC, Australia: Blaze Bioscience, Inc., and Blaze Bioscience Australia Pty Ltd. December 19, 2013. http://www.blazebioscience.com/uploads/6/7/5/0/6750537/phase_1_press_release_12-19-13_final.pdf. Accessed October 12, 2017.
4. Blaze Bioscience’s BLZ-100 receives orphan drug designation from FDA for brain cancer [news release]. Seattle, WA: Blaze Bioscience. July 7, 2015. http://www.blazebioscience.com/uploads/6/7/5/0/6750537/blaze_orphan_drug_designation_07_jul_2015.pdf. Accessed October 12, 2017.