San Diego Business Journal

They may soon be seeing the light in the surgical suite thanks to Alume Biosciences.

Some call it the “GPS of surgery.”

Alume’s secret weapon is ALM-488 an intravenously administered peptide-dye conjugate for fluorescence highlighting of nerves during surgery. When exposed to blue light, the nerves glow in yellowish green. The initial use would be for head and neck surgery. But other areas such as the prostate are likely to be targeted.

Alume recently announced completion of a $5.5 million Series A funding round.

Avoiding Nerve Damage

When it comes to surgery, things are not always clear-cut.

“It is hard to tell the difference between nerve and non-nerve.,” said Alume Biosciences CEO Quyen Nguyen, M.D. “The difference from one structure to another is often just shades of red. There is nothing like this. Right now, it is just surgeons using anatomy to identify nerves.”

It is difficult to peg the percentage of patients whose nerves are damaged during surgery, especially in the head and neck area.

Sometimes nerve damage goes unreported, said Nguyen, a head and neck surgeon. “Say you have surgery and your face feels numb. Who is going to report that? Often, only if you have surgery to correct that will it be reported.

According to the company, practicing physicians and biotechnology angel investors participated in the Series A round, including co-founder Chrysa Mineo (formerly of Receptos and Neurocrine Biosciences) and Dan Bradbury (co-founder and executive chairman of Equillium Inc, and former CEO of Amylin).

“We had overwhelming interest in our Series A round, which was oversubscribed,” said Nguyen. “I am especially excited and grateful that so many surgeons and physicians representing end-users of the technology participated financially in pursuit of making a nerve illumination agent available in the surgical suite in a rapid timeframe.”

It was Nguyen who found this as an unmet need early on in her career and worked with the now late Nobel Laureate Roger Tsien to find a solution to fluorescently highlight nerves.

Manufacturing

As for the competition, Nguyen said there is nothing like it (Alume’s solution). “Right now, it is just surgeons using anatomy,” Nguyen said.

Alume acquired worldwide rights to the technology from the University of California, San Diego.

“The Alume team has demonstrated exceptional development execution to date rapidly identifying a lead nerve-illumination candidate after company founding and generating significant interest amongst physicians for the initial indication of head and neck surgery, said Mineo, co-founder of Alume.

Nguyen is proud of Alume’s work.

“It is a very nice story about surgeons and doctors wanting to improve the outcomes for their patients,” Nguyen said. “That’s how this started; that’s how this will move forward.”