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Cancer Radiotherapy Company Lands $11.6M First Round Funds

PET scanner (DoE)

PET scanner (U.S. Department of Energy)

4 April 2014. RefleXion Medical, a company in Burlingame, California designing a more accurate form of radiation therapy to treat solid tumors, gained $11.6 million in its first round of venture financing. The financing was lead by venture capital company Sofinnova Partners, with participation by Pfizer Venture Investments and Venrock.

RefleXion Medical is developing a new form of radiation therapy for solid-tumor cancers, such as breast, prostate, and lung cancers. The company’s technology harnesses positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, where small amounts of radioactive tracers collect in organs and tissues, and emit signals that become visible when interacting with PET scans. Scans in a PET session are retrieved, assembled, and visualized by computer, providing a three-dimensional image of the target.

While PET scanning is used for cancer diagnosis, it has not been used up to now for treating cancer. Among the problems limiting PET scans for treatment with radiation therapy is the extended time — several minutes — needed to assemble a high-quality image and difficulty compensating for movement of organs and tumors, such as caused by breathing when trying to treat lung cancer.

RefleXion Medical’s solution tightly integrates PET scans with radiation therapy to sharply reduce the lag time between signal detection and radiation dosage. The system employs an algorithm that links light particles detected in PET scans to targeting of radiation therapy. This linkage, says the company, allows the signals detected in PET scans to guide the application of radiation therapy in real time directly to the tumor, delivering more radiation and avoiding healthy tissue nearby.

The company tested its technology in a simulation with lung and prostate tumors using a four-dimensional human model, conducted with engineering researchers at Georgia Tech, and published in 2012 in the journal Medical Physics. The simulation showed RefleXion Medical’s emission guided radiation therapy delivered between 19 and 41 percent more radiation to the tumors in doses aiming for 95 percent of the tumors’ gross volumes. When aiming the radiation to cover 50 percent of the tumors’ gross volumes, the technique delivered 52 to 55 percent more radiation.

RefleXion Medical’s technology was invented by company president Sam Mazin while a postdoctoral researcher in radiology at Stanford University. Also while a postdoc in 2009, Mazin was selected by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for a fellowship to commercialize the technology, and he went on the found the company soon thereafter.

Proceeds of the financing are expected to expand RefleXion Medical’s research organization and accelerate development of the technology. The company received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from National Cancer Institute in September 2011 to initially develop the technology.

Sofinnova Partners that led the financing is a Paris-based venture capital company specializing in life sciences enterprises. Pfizer Venture Investments is the venture capital arm of Pfizer Inc. Venrock was first established as the venture capital organization representing the Rockefeller family, but today focuses on technology and health care companies.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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