Cancers are like garden weeds. Even after the surgical removal of a tumor, cancer-cell stragglers can grow back and overrun the body. Surgery is the most common intervention for tumors, but it’s by no means a cure—about 40% of the 9 million people around the world who undergo the procedure every year experience a cancer comeback within 5 years.
A new company, Surge Therapeutics, aims to turn surgery’s record around. Launched today with $26 million in series A funding, the company champions an intra-operative approach to treating cancer: delivering treatment during the same surgery in which the tumor is being removed.
“Cancer surgery is a physical intervention only. Surge believes that it should be a biochemically therapeutic one as well,” says Michael Goldberg, the company’s founder and CEO.
Surge’s technology is a biodegradable hydrogel that delivers immunotherapies locally and persistently inside the body. The company won’t provide chemical details, only calling the hydrogel a proprietary polymer that is a liquid at room temperature and then gels into a solid inside the body.
The idea is that when surgeons remove a solid tumor from a patient, they implant the drug-loaded hydrogel in the void where the tumor was. The hydrogel then continuously releases immune-triggering molecules long after the operation, shoring up the body’s defenses for weeding out residual cancer cells.
“The hydrogel allows for the concentration and retention of the therapeutic of interest where it’s needed, when it’s needed,” Goldberg says.
Surge says it will use the funding to develop its technology and initiate clinical trials. The company’s lead product candidate is a blend of the hydrogel with the immune-response modifier resiquimod.
Before launching Surge, Goldberg was a tenure-track professor at Harvard University. He trained with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Robert Langer and Phillip Sharp, the latter of whom won the1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. In 2018, Goldberg’s team published a paper that showed post-surgical, hydrogel-assisted delivery of immunotherapies boosted the therapies’ efficacy in mice with cancer, to the extent that they were cured.
Goldberg says that when he saw the data he was so astounded that he left his academic position to found Surge. “I don’t really have a choice here,” he says. “When you have data like this, you really have to go all in.”
Goldberg hopes that the intraoperative approach will become a widespread practice. “Intra-operative immunotherapy has the potential to become a part of the new standard of care for patients with solid tumors, seamlessly supplementing surgery,” he says.
Goldberg’s motivation is personal: His best friend died of cancer. In the 4 years since leaving Harvard, he’s lost three more friends to post-surgical cancer recurrence. “While my friends won’t reap the benefits of the novel approach that we’ve developed,” he says, “I’m relentlessly committed to ensuring that, moving forward, everyone else who might do so, will.”