Bionaut Moves Forward with Treatment for Brain and Spinal Tumors

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

Brain tumor

People who suffer from a rare disease that produces tumors inside the brain and spinal cord are one step closer to getting a potentially less invasive treatment that rivals radiation therapy on the market.

Bionaut Labs, the Los Angeles startup behind tiny micro-robots that can swim through the body and deliver therapeutics, gained a special drug designation from the Food and Drug Administration that could speed up their clinical trials.

The company's goal is to begin clinical trials in 2023.

Bionaut's robotic capsule, which is smaller than a flea, holds doxorubicin (a chemotherapy drug) that can travel to delicate areas to treat malignant gliomas. The tumors often sit in parts of the brain that controls breathing.

Most doctors treat the disease with radiation therapy, a process that can be devastating especially for young patients.

"Because we work in orphan diseases that essentially a lot of very unfortunate patients with unaddressed medical needs have, it's a small but very significant step towards helping this very population," Alex Kiselyov, chief scientific officer for Bionaut Labs, said.

The FDA considers the disease rare since it only occurs in five of every 100,000 people, and gave the treatment the so-called orphan drug designation.

The special designation created in 1983 gives Bionaut access to clinical trial subsidies, patent protections and inflated marketing rights for companies that create new therapeutics. Perhaps as importantly, the FDA is providing transportation and other resources to malignant glioma patients to make it easier for them to access clinical trial sites and this new form of treatment.

Treatments for rare disease are uniquely difficult to push through clinical trials because it's difficult to find patients who can be tracked long-term. This is on top of a slew of problems that can occur during the clinical trial process, where multiple promising drugs have died. Furthermore, a company only has a certain number of years to speed through clinical trials and marketing, and make money off its patent before it expires and generics enter the market, which has failed big companies like Amgen. Most investors don't recoup expensive investments until decades later.

The designations have opened up the market for rare disease drugs, said Eunjoo Pacifici, a professor at the USC School of Pharmacy.

"Now almost half of all brand new drugs that are approved every year...are for rare diseases," she said.

The company still has a ways to go. While the drug itself is approved, the Bionaut platform isn't. The company is pursuing Humanitarian Use Device designation — another created from the agency's need to treat rare diseases — from the FDA.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the FDA's designation.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.


The Streamy Awards Prove that Online Creators and Traditional Media Are Still Disconnected

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

tiktok influencers around a trophy ​
Andria Moore /Charli D'Amelio/Addison Rae/JiDion

Every year, the Streamy Awards, which is considered the top award show within the creator economy, reveals which creators are capturing the largest audiences. This past Sunday, the event, held at The Beverly Hilton, highlighted some of the biggest names in the influencer game, chief among them Mr. Beast and Charli D’Amelio. It had all the trappings of a traditional award show—extravagant gowns, quippy acceptance speeches and musical interludes. But, as TikTok creator Adam Rose told The Washington Post, the Streamys still lacks the legitimacy of traditional award shows.

Read moreShow less

Slingshot Aerospace Raises $40 Million to Expand Space Object Sensor Network

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Slingshot Aerospace Raises $40 Million to Expand Space Object Sensor Network
Photo: Slingshot Aerospace

Slingshot Aerospace, the El Segundo-based startup developing software for managing objects in space’s orbit, raised $40.9 million to build out its global network of sensors and recruit new customers both private and public.

The round was a follow-on to Slingshot’s $25 million Series A-1 raise in March.

Read moreShow less

BlueLA, The Largest EV Car Sharing Program, Is Expanding

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

charging station
Blink Charging

It ain’t easy being a charging company…or at least a lot of them aren’t making it look easy. Between reports of abysmal charger uptime, declining stock values, lack of standards and meaningless jargon (is “hyper” really faster than “ultra?”), the race to electrify America’s roads has been a bumpy one. For Miami-based Blink Charging, however, the solution to smoothing the transition may be about becoming more than just a charger company.

Read moreShow less