US startup bags $32 million to blend cancer surgery and immunotherapy

By Jonathan Smith

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags Cancer Immunotherapy Immune system Research

The U.S. startup Surge Therapeutics has raised $32 million in a Series B round to bankroll the development of a hydrogel-based immunotherapy delivered during cancer surgery.

The funding round was led by Bioluminescence Ventures. Other investors that participated include new investors KdT Ventures, Piedmont Capital and returning backers such as 8VC, Alumni Ventures and Camford Capita.

Surge will use the cash infusion to expand its team and progress multiple clinical trials of its cancer immunotherapies, including its lead candidate STM-416.

Surgery is a standard of care for many solid tumors. However, many cancers can relapse within several years of surgery, in part because the procedure can suppress the immune system​ and help tumor cells to hide from immune cells.

To overcome this challenge, STM-416 is a biodegradable hydrogel-based treatment that is injected at the surgical site during the operation. Once in place, the hydrogel slowly releases resiquimod, a small molecule drug that activates a protein called toll-like receptor (TLR) on immune cells, to enhance the immune system response against the cancer.

By delivering STM-416 during surgery, the immunotherapy dose is focused on the tumor site and is designed to prevent relapse. Surge recently dosed the first patients in a phase 1/2a trial for the prevention of recurrence and/or progression of non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) after surgery to remove the tumor.

“The capital that we have raised to date will allow SURGE to generate proof-of-concept event-free survival data with our lead program and advance our second and third programs through phase 1,” said Michael Goldberg, CEO and founder of Surge, in a public release​.

Surge was founded in 2016 based on Goldberg’s work at Harvard Medical School. The company raised a $26 million Series A financing round in October 2022 to fund the development of its technology and to launch its first two clinical programs.

“Currently, cancer surgery is a physical intervention only,” stated Kouki Harasaki, managing partner at Bioluminescence Ventures, in the public release. “Physicians typically do not administer any kind of immunotherapy during surgical tumor resection, which we believe is a missed opportunity, as post-surgical recurrence and metastasis account for 90 percent of cancer-related deaths.”

“Surge has a unique first-mover advantage in the intraoperative immunotherapy space to potentially improve patient outcomes and become the standard of care as a seamless complement to surgery.”

Few companies at present are developing immunotherapy approaches combined with cancer surgery. One research group at the University of Pennsylvania tested an approach in mouse models where they surgically removed part of a tumor and placed a human CAR-T cell immunotherapy in the wound. According to findings published in January 2023, the CAR-T cells were able to destroy the remaining tumor cells.

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