After almost two decades of research at academic medical centers, Dr. John Frangioni realized that while academia was a rich environment for innovation, it was not an ideal setting for invention to be converted into commercial products that could tangibly help patients and doctors. He then founded Curadel in an effort to move his potentially life-changing technologies into the clinical setting.
The road has not been easy, as it rarely is for new startups. But Curadel is well on its way to success with its revolutionary FLARE® technology lighting the way.
Using FLARE® to Light the Way
FLARE®, which stands for Fluorescence Assisted Resection and Exploration, has the potential to empower surgeons with real-time critical information that could result in greatly improved outcomes for patients undergoing cancer surgery with curative intent.
“The system uses near-infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye but penetrates millimeters through blood and tissue,” explains Chief Chemist Mark Bordo. Bordo notes that Curadel is developing “special contrast agents that could be injected into the bloodstream to highlight various structures, such as tumors, blood vessels, nerves, lymph nodes, glands, etc. When realized, FLARE® imaging will allow one to simultaneously identify different structures, enabling surgeons to resect tumors while avoiding normal tissues, all in real time.”
Why is this so important? Cancer cells don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Instead, tumors often blend into their environment often making it difficult to discern malignant tissues from normal, healthy ones. FLARE® will help to eliminate the guesswork. In sharing Curadel’s near-term goals, Chief Operating Officer Saira Y. Valley points out that when developed for human use, “FLARE® technology will be able to affect every stakeholder in the healthcare spectrum. For insurance companies and hospitals, it could reduce the cost of care. For the patient and their family, it would provide emotional relief because they would know in real time the outcome of their surgery. For the surgeon, it could provide the expediency of seeing the tumor and removing it quickly, without having to dissect for long periods. Everyone would benefit from this kind of technology.”
Although FLARE® technology products have not yet been approved by the FDA, both the medical device and the imaging agent constituents have been successfully tested in both small and large animals.
Finding Cancer, Empowering Research
Dr. Frangioni highlighted the fundamental benefit of the FLARE® while discussing a recent surgery:
“FLARE® technology has the potential to change the way we practice surgery by enabling us to see the unseen. During one of our surgeries, after injecting a FLARE® contrast agent and turning on the FLARE® imaging system a tumor, completely invisible otherwise, became visible within seconds. It was right there in front of us, within millimeters of the pulsating great vessels. With the help of the FLARE® system we were able to remove the tumor from an area that is usually quite treacherous to operate in.”
Dr. Frangioni is particularly proud of FLARE’s proprietary technology, which allows users to see two NIR channels simultaneously in real time. This has been especially useful in cases of breast cancer. Although sentinel lymph node mapping is now the standard of care in breast cancer and melanoma, a significant number of cases require a complete lymphadenectomy. Small and large animal studies demonstrated that Curadel’s flourophores are able to target and highlight both the sentinel lymph nodes, and the pan lymph nodes in breast, providing for simultaneous and real-time visualization of both in the same subject. These would be otherwise invisible by all other means and indistinguishable if not for FLARE® imaging. Furthermore, with their issued patents on FLARE® technology, Curadel is positioned to be a leader in the field of real-time image-guided surgery.
Walking the Walk
On top of the incredible technology that Curadel is developing, the company is committed to certain values. According to Ms. Valley, almost every person on the team has been personally touched by cancer and each person is motivated every day to make a difference in someone else’s life.
Women in Power
Dr. Frangioni was clear that he supports putting women in positions of power at the company: “We not only talk the talk, but we walk the walk. Most of my leadership staff is made up of women. They run the show and it’s great.” He adds, “It’s all about the best people. In this case, the best people happen to be women.”
This summer, Curadel has enlisted three high school students to study and work. Even as a startup, the company is committed to supporting STEM education and fostering the growth of the next life sciences generation.
Curadel also participates in resource sharing – something that certainly sets the company apart. All too often in industry, innovations are held close to the vest to maximize the potential for one company to hold all the cards in treating or curing a disease. Curadel’s goal is to cure cancer, through surgery or otherwise, and Dr. Frangioni wants to share any information he can in the hope that it will help others in their research.
Words of Wisdom
Having been through the ups and downs of launching a company, Dr. Frangioni and Ms. Valley generously offered some advice for budding entrepreneurs. What are their three biggest takeaways?
- Read up! There’s a world of good books on funding new ventures. Learn as much as possible before taking action.
- Talk to Experienced Entrepreneurs: Take some time to talk to people who have been through the process, understand the positives and negatives, and know that success comes with a hefty price tag.
- It’s More than Just the Science: For every one person working on the science, it takes two people to handle the administrative aspects. Don’t underestimate all of the elements that go into a successful startup. The science is key, but it’s not everything.
On the Horizon
Curadel has an exciting fall ahead. In September the company plans to unveil their flagship product, the Model R1 at the 2015 World Molecular Imaging Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Model R1 is the first research grade FLARE® system and a state of the art technology that will set the stage for where the company is headed clinically.
To learn more about Curadel, visit the company’s website at www.curadel.com.
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