Innovator of the Week
Co-Founder and President of DoseOptics
Radiation therapy is delivered to nearly 1/5th of all people in the country, and yet there is no way to visualize the delivery of the beam on the patient’s tissue. Radiation therapy works extremely well, and its success is part of the reason why use if it is so widespread as part of most cancer therapies. However patients are usually treated every day for up to 30 days or more, and the delivery of the beam needs to be near 3mm precision every single day. While this is the goal, it is not always realized, and small changes in each patient and each day can alter this. To make things even more complex, the drive in the field is to make extremely complex treatment plans, which spare normal tissue as much as possible and maximize delivery to the cancer region. Verification of patient position and delivery of the beam is currently done with a mixture of technologies which do not directly image the delivery on the patient. DoseOptics has the only proprietary technology to video image the delivery of this radiation in real time, for confirmation of the delivery, and quality audit of systems and treatment plans. The imaging involves capture of Cherenkov light emission from the patient tissue, which has been shown to be a strong signal, easily captured with the right camera and the right image processing. DoseOptics has developed a unique camera system and processing package to image this radiation therapy delivery and can display it in real time to the therapy team. The company has been funded by 3 SBIR grants, totaling $3.4 million, and has partnerships planned with major academic research centers at Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and Washington University in St. Louis. Commercial sales to research users are expected in the coming year, with FDA approvals planned for the following year.
Who or what was your best resource for starting your company?
Absolutely the best resource was finding the right team to execute our plans. The CEO Bill Ware has been the key glue and business analyst to make it all work, and the CTO Venkat Krishnasway is an amazing engineer who has been essential in implementing our vision into a real product which we can carry through ISO production and eventual FDA approval. This team also includes Scott Davis, Google Ventures & Dartmouth, who has advised on strategies, and some former PhD students from Dartmouth who work full time in the radiotherapy world. Additionally, the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network (DEN) has been pivotal in allowing us to access space in the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center (DTRC) in Lebanon NH.
What was your biggest obstacle in starting your company and how did you overcome it?
I think hiring new people to get things done has been the largest obstacle for us, as we are located in a pretty remote area of New England with relatively highly trained technology workers. We have great people, but as we expand, this is a major limitation. We currently are looking for people in the areas of technology project management with an electrical and computer engineering skill set. Also, at least one person is needed in the area of product development in ISO certified production and FDA approvals compliance. We have good leads on temporary interns from Dartmouth, but recruiting well-trained individuals with product experience or translation/company experience is almost not possible in our location. Currently, we are looking for the next round of graduates from most of the engineering schools in the Northeast, but this requires waiting until May/June. We have a terrific environment in the upper valley, so expect that we can really draw in those who are looking to have a high-tech job in a non-urban environment, with high quality of life, and nearby or within a college town atmosphere. We think there is tremendous potential here, but it is just a jigsaw puzzle to find the people with the right motivations and skill set.
What’s the best advice you have received?
The best advice I have seen has been to use the SBIR program for its merits and refrain for soliciting investment funding until you need it. We have been able to take the company really pretty far, and even are planning early commercial sales, all based upon SBIR funds. The NIH SBIR program is a wonderful way to get substantial funding if the technology being developed is truly unique, and fits with an R&D paradigm, with the right academic & business team advancing it.
What about the NH lifestyle appeals to you?
Everyone at the company is into NH lifestyle. We are all here for slightly different personal reasons, but largely related to our affiliation with Dartmouth or the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Right now, all employees are either Dartmouth alumni or Dartmouth faculty, but this is likely to shift slightly as we grow. We are all fully vested in living in NH, and making our company work within the Upper Valley environment, because most have consciously chosen Dartmouth as our location for education or work due to its location in a natural environment. I should say, that despite the remote location, the Upper Valley community and Dartmouth Network are both gems for startup businesses, because of the extremely high locus of startups, smart individuals and investment potential in the Dartmouth network. It is just that this is smaller than the large urban centers such as Boston, but within Northern New England, it is likely the best environment for a startup company. Additionally, the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center are ideal places to translate biomedical technology because research is a major part of their mandate. These medical centers and the faculty involved in them have been phenomenal supporters and collaborators for our company. In particular, the research is a spin-off of academic work that I was involved with in Radiation Oncology, and now we leverage our connections there and are able to provide them with subcontract funding, and installation of our first alpha prototype system. Overall, our company has been ideally situated, mixed in with each of these major research institutions, and we are extremely grateful to leverage what they have to offer, and also give back some unique technology to their clinical goals.
What does the future look like for your company?
We are right in the middle of testing and development of the camera and software. We are starting our first clinical trial at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in November/December, and this will be an important step in testing and data gathering. We will begin commercial sales to strategic research partners early in 2017 and expect that this will also help test the system as we have designed it. The data from our first clinical trial will inform our ability to seek FDA 510(k) premarket approval. We are fully expecting to achieve this as a diagnostic device prior to the end of our SBIR funding, 2 years from now.