Cancer treatment, as we all are well aware, is very expensive and many people are adversely affected because of either the unaffordability or the unavailability of appropriate treatment. HIL Applied Medical, founded in 2010, is a company that uses a patented approach to particle acceleration and beam delivery, combining Nano-technology with ultra-high-intensity lasers and advanced magnetics. These technological breakthroughs enable meaningful reduction in the size, complexity, and cost of proton therapy systems, without compromising clinical utility for cancer treatment at a lower cost.
In colloquy with Sagi Brink-Danan, CEO, HIL Applied Medical
Why was the company set up?
HIL was founded by Prof. ArieZigler of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and his former Ph.D. student, Dr. Shmuel Eisenmann. Based on scientific breakthroughs made by them and other team members at the lab during several years of research prior to founding HIL, Arie and Shmuel realized that they might be able to revolutionize the field of cancer radiation therapy. In particular, the technological advancements they were working on could be applied to Proton Beam Therapy, the most advanced, focused and precise form of Radiation Therapy available today. They could dramatically reduce the size and cost of Proton Therapy systems, thus bringing them to every midsize hospital and medical center, and making this important tool in the fight against cancer available to millions of patients every year who do not have access to it.
Discuss your first project briefly.
We are in the development phase of our first product. This is very exciting, as it is going to be the world’s first and only laser-based proton-therapy system. While still under development, the underlying technology powering our product is already protected by over 40 granted and pending patents worldwide.
HIL is developing an ultra-compact system for cancer treatment using a proton beam. The usage of proton beams, though it sounds fresh, has found its first inspiration from World-War-II-era tech. Yes, the cyclotrons and synchrotrons, the heart of all the existing proton-therapy systems were invented back in the 1930’s and 40’s. We are working to replace them with 21st-century tech; we think its about time.
“No matter how convincing the idea sounds, every innovation sees its share of challenges.” What were your initial challenges and how did you overcome them?
Israel is a fantastic hotspot for innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial thought and action. But at the same time, it is geographically distant from key target markets (US, Japan, China, etc.) and sources of funding. Thus the two major challenges were connecting to one’s future customers and financing the venture.
But every difficulty comes with both lessons and rewards at the end. The challenges motivate us to be on our toes to achieve our dream of making HIL a top global giant. We have hailed through our initial challenges to enjoy a wide and ever-expanding investor base including VCs, family offices, and individuals from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. We have multi-national strategic partners including Belgium’s IBA (Ion Beam Applications) - the world’s leader in Proton Therapy, France’s technology giant THALES - the leading maker of high-intensity lasers, and so on.
What benefits your company strives to offer? How do you think people will receive it?
We are primarily interested in optimizing the various trade offs between size, weight, and cost on the one hand, and clinical performance on the other. All current proton-therapy machines on the market are aiming to please everyone. To date, this approach has resulted in these machines ending up being gigantic, incredibly heavy, and prohibitively expensive (proton therapy is often referred to as “the most expensive medical device in history”). We aim to change that and find an optimal middle ground that balances clinical utility with compactness and cost-effectiveness. We believe we can introduce to the market a proton therapy solution that is 100-1,000 times lighter, 50% smaller and 70% less expensive than the existing systems.
We work closely and constantly with prospective customers and with our own advisory board, and we strive to learn from them about their needs and desires. As a company with still no products released, we think this is actually the best time to do so. We enjoy the benefit of having our first product still be in development, to tailor it ahead of time to the unmet needs of our future customers - which is a much better way than doing so in retrospect, after your product is already on the market. Hence, we are optimistic about it being well-received.
Would you like to throw some light on your company’s inspiration for success?
The opportunity to provide the most advanced therapy to everyone who could benefit from it, and save hundreds of thousands of lives every year, inspires us to work day and night. The proton beam -which is a form of focused radiation used to treat solidtumors- is superior to traditional radiation therapy (Gamma/X-ray) as it reduces damage to surrounding healthy tissue by two to six fold, thereby improving chances of patient survival and quality of life. Currently, there are only 64 operating proton therapy facilities in the world, addressing only 3-5% of the clinical demand. This tremendous gap between demand and availability is what drives us. It is too soon to talk about the success but based on feedback from prospective customers and the level of interest we are receiving already from them, our hopes are high.
Salutation to the leader
Sagi Brink-Danan, Chief Executive Officer, HIL Applied Medical
With over 15 years of entrepreneurial and executive medical-device experience, his contribution to pain monitoring, orthopedics, robotic spine surgery, advanced wound healing, and urology is note-worthy. A native of Israel, prior to his medical-device career Sagi served in an elite Navy unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), where he attained the rank of Captain. Following his honorable discharge he pursued M.Sc. in Biomedical Engineering and MBA in entrepreneurship and international business. Prior to arriving at HIL he was the founding CEO of Perfuzia Medical and served as a VP at SRS Medical; earlier, he was the 2nd US employee for Mazor Robotics (NASDAQ: MZOR).
Sagi has several scientific and medical publications and holds numerous patent applications.
“We aim to enable and deliver, for the first time, truly compact and cost-effective single-room, add-on, expandable proton therapy facilities.”