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Lumicell lands $29M as cancer trials progress

08 Dec 2017

US firm has developed a fluorescence-based image guidance system to help surgeons remove tumor masses in full.

Massachusetts-based Lumicell has raised $28.7 million in venture funding, and says it will use the money to advance clinical trials of its intra-operative image-guidance system for more effective removal of cancerous tumors.

The company, which employs ten people out of its base in Wellesley, has been developing the fluorescence-based technology for applications in breast cancer surgery in the first instance – and has just reported promising initial results from a Phase 2 clinical trial completed within the past couple of months.

Other trials could follow in colorectal and esophageal cancers, and to help treat secondary brain tumors, although these applications are currently at a much earlier stage.

Residual cell scanning
Lumicell’s CEO Kelly Londy said in response to the series C funding round that the cash would be used to drive completion of the breast cancer studies and to expand the fluorescence imaging system into additional cancer indications.

“We look forward to several key development milestones over the next year, as our platform moves into the next stages and our company grows,” she added.

The company’s “LUM 2.6” imager is said to be capable of single-cell resolution, and is designed to fit into the cavity created when a surgeon removes a tumor to scan in real time for any residual cancerous cells at the margins.

Figures cited by the company suggest that up to 40 per cent of breast cancer “lumpectomies” require follow-up surgery to fully remove the cancerous cells.

Patients involved in the latest trial of the system were injected with a dose of Lumicell’s optical contrast agent 2-6 hours before surgery. The agent is said to target the tumor microenvironment and fluoresce near cancer cells at the tumor margin when activated by protease enzymes.

Clinical trial
At this week’s San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, Lumicell is presenting initial results from the latest trial, which was carried out at Massachusetts General Hospital and enrolled 45 patients.

Company representatives reported in their poster presentation that the fluorescence imager was able to correctly identify residual cancer cells of different sub-types, including invasive ductal cancer (IDC), invasive lobular cancer (ILC) and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) during surgery.

The LUM System also correctly identified residual cancer (positive margins) within the tumor cavity in all patients studied, as confirmed by standard histopathology, stated the company.

Londy added: “The data presented at San Antonio further supports our advancement into pivotal breast cancer studies and continued clinical expansion into other solid tumor cancers including prostate cancer, colorectal, esophageal and pancreatic cancers, among others.”

More specifically the latest trial data is said to have showed 100 per cent sensitivity and 73 per cent specificity for detection of tumors less than 2 mm from the margin, with IDC, ILC, and DCIS growths as small as 1 mm identified.

Lumicell’s chief medical officer Felix Geissler commented: “The LUM System continues to be well-tolerated during breast cancer surgeries, and importantly, all residual cancer cells in the tumor cavity were correctly identified. Additional studies are underway to continue to validate and optimize the LUM System in this setting.”

Koch Institute connection
Lumicell was established by current president and chief scientific officer W. David Lee. According to the firm’s web site Lee returned from industry to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Koch Institute to develop the new imaging technique, following his wife’s death from breast cancer.

The Koch Institute is dedicated to “integrative” cancer research, bringing together engineers and biologists to work on new cancer drugs and immunology techniques, as well as novel detection and monitoring schemes based on optical and other approaches.

CEO Londy, who first trained as a radiographer, has previously worked as VP and managing director of molecular imaging at GE Healthcare, and held a variety of senior roles at Philips Healthcare.

She joined Lumicell in July 2017, at which point the series C funding total stood at $13.5 million. The company says that more than 60,000 of the 300,000 patients who undergo lumpectomies in the US each year need to undergo follow-up surgery to fully remove cancer margins subsequently discovered through histopathology tests.

At the time of her appointment, Londy said: “I am passionate about the battle against cancer, and especially breast cancer, where removing the whole tumor the first time can have dramatic impact to the patient, surgeons and healthcare system. I believe Lumicell will provide a new platform to surgeons around the world that will allow patients to have the highest level of care possible.”

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