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Neutron beam
An artist’s conception shows how a beam of neutrons could be directed at a tumor in a patient’s head, shown in a cutaway view. (TAE Life Sciences Illustration)

TAE Technologies, the California-based fusion energy company backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has spawned a spinoff focusing on a novel type of cancer therapy.

The spinoff, TAE Life Sciences, is a majority-owned subsidiary of TAE Technologies and will take advantage of the company’s accelerator-based beam technology.

In its quest to tame nuclear fusion, TAE Technologies has developed a high-intensity beam system that shoots energetic particles at clouds of plasma to boost stability and performance.

TAE Life Sciences aims to use similar beams for an application known as boron neutron capture therapy, or BNCT. The technique involves injecting a drug containing non-radioactive boron into a cancer patient’s tumor, and then shooting a neutron beam at the tumor.

The boron atoms absorb the neutrons, resulting in a localized radiation effect that kills the tumor cells while preserving non-cancerous tissue.

BNCT is a particularly promising technique for treating cancers of the head and neck region that are difficult or impossible to treat using other types of therapy. The procedure has already been tested in Japan, the United States and other locales.

TAE Life Sciences says it has raised $40 million in venture capital, led by Artis Ventures, to develop a neutron beam system that should be compact enough to fit in typical hospital facilities. It also announced a partnership with Neuboron Medtech Ltd., a Chinese company involved in BNCT research.

Neuboron is due to be the first to install TAE Life Sciences’ neutron beam system for medical applications.

TAE Life Sciences’ CEO is Bruce Bauer, a veteran biomedical investment manager who’s the founder of California-based Newbury Ventures. Board members include Stuart Peterson, co-founder and president of Artis Ventures; TAE Technologies CEO Steven Specker; TAE Technologies President/CTO Michl Binderbauer; and TAE technology strategist Artem Smirnov.

“BNCT has been investigated as a promising area of treatment for some time, but challenged by the limited radiation options for convenient clinical practice,” Bauer said today in a news release. “Now, TAE Life Sciences stands ready to offer a compelling and compassionate application of medical science innovation, increasing accessibility to treatment options for a challenging disease, and improving outcomes for patients around the world.”

TAE Life Sciences stressed that its neutron beam device is currently for investigational use only and hasn’t yet been approved for sale or commercial use.

Previously: Fusion ventures learn lessons about engineering and expectations

The spinoff is the first significant step in TAE Technologies’ strategy to commercialize products and intellectual property developed in the course of its fusion quest.

“Launching TAE Life Sciences allows us to continue concentrating on our core focus of realizing future energy, while successfully positioning this subsidiary company to leverage our technology and talent for a significant opportunity in cancer treatment,” Specker explained in a statement.

Over the past two decades, TAE (formerly known as Tri Alpha Energy) has taken in more than $500 million in funding from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, the Rockefeller family’s Venrock venture capital firm, Russia’s Rusnano and other investors.

TAE Technologies has recorded significant advances in plasma physics, and could conceivably demonstrate net energy gain from a controlled fusion reaction in the 2020s. In the meantime, TAE plans for its spinoffs to capitalize on innovations not only in medicine and life sciences, but also in fields such as power management and transportation.

“Much like the NASA Apollo program, which launched more than 6,000 new technologies like microchips and CAT scanners, we’re seizing the opportunity to realize new commercialization pathways based on our work — each with promise to address global problems in new and disruptive ways,” Specker said.

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