The Weizmann Institute of Science and Acceler8 Venture Builder have received prestigious European Innovation Council funding for demonstrating an innovative, safe and cost-effective cancer radiotherapy approach based on electrons, which are given very high energies using laser plasma accelerator technology. Eventually, the very high energy electron beams will be directed to tumours residing in deep tissue. The final aim is to create a cost-effective form of radiotherapy, with lower irradiaton effects on the adjacent healthy tissues and organs.
Earlier in September, the project partners met in Rehovot, Israel, to launch and coordinate project eBeam4Therapy. The 3-year project has received funding of Eur2.5M from the European Union through the Horizon Europe EIC Transition grant.
At present, the treatment of deep-tissue cancers by radiation is most often accomplished through the use of photon (x-ray) or particle (for example, proton) beams. While electrons at low energies have also been applied to cancer therapy, these are only effective in the treatment of superficial tumours, due to their low ability to penetrate through human tissues. Prof. Victor Malka’s team at the Department of Physics of Complex Systems of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel have found a way to routinely generate focused, highly energetic electron beams by compact laser plasma accelerators in the ideal energy range for the treatment of tumours located deep within the body (such as prostate or lung cancer).
Highly energetic electron beams in cancer therapy
The use of very high energy electrons (VHEE) has a number of important advantages over conventional radiotherapy methods in clinical use for cancer therapy. First, electrons at energies of around 240MeV can penetrate deep within the body with finer resolution and can achieve better tumour targeting, which means that a lower dose of radiation is delivered to ‘healthy’ tissues adjacent to the tumour, lowering the risk of side effects which may, in some cases, be very serious. Second, the electron beams are highly resilient to organ motion and changes in patient geometry, improving treatment effectiveness – This may be of special relevance for the treatment of patients with obesity with radiation as these often suffer from poor outcomes due to heightened tissue and organ motion during therapy delivery. Finally, the machinery required to deliver the therapy is expected to be compact, simple to operate and significantly cheaper than the one required to deliver proton therapy. Professor Malka comments:
“The added value of the approach is that, because we are able to produce this very intense electric field, we do not need meters and meters of accelerating distance to produce the very high energy electrons, so it gives a chance to deliver the very high energy electrons for radiotherapy in a machine that can be compact and that can be also affordable commercially” – Victor Malka
Acceler8, a Venture Builder specialising in the commercialisation of research-based innovations, have been tasked with managing the commercialisation of the technology. During the coming years, they will work towards demonstrating commercial feasibility, improving acceptance among key stakeholders (e.g., end users, policymakers, investors) and improving the investment readiness. The goal is to bring a compact and inexpensive radiotherapy instrument to the market during the next decade. The Acceler8 CEO sees the extensive market demand:
“It is already seen that several start-ups in this domain have emerged, which have raised considerable amounts of funding. At the same time the machines are getting smaller and more affordable, while policy makers are improving the general access to radiotherapy facilities. All these drive the market further and provide an exciting environment for us building this solution” – Antti Heikkila
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.
Weizmann Institute of Science
One of the world’s leading basic research institutions, Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) comprises 250 experimental and theoretical research groups across five faculties—Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Physics. Insights that emerge from its labs help provide a fundamental understanding of the human body and the universe, and lead to advances in medicine, technology, and the environment.
In eBeam4Therapy, a team of outstanding researchers in laser-plasma physics led by principal investigator Prof. Victor Malka at WIS will work to demonstrate the feasibility of laser-plasma technology in the radiotherapy application while improving the cost effectiveness of the approach. This will involve optimising the very high energy electron beam parameters for cancer treatment, carrying out robust 3D dosimetric characterisation and scaling down the cost of laser and machine components to a minimum.
Acceler8 Venture Builder
A privately owned venture builder with roots in the European research and industry collaboration landscape, Acceler8 (A8) focuses on commercializing research-based innovations born and developed especially in European Research Council (ERC), European Innovation Council (EIC) and European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) funded research. Acceler8 works on developing innovations towards relevant applications, elevating technology & business readiness levels, carrying out business validation, and productising technologies into a valuable offering. A8 is a strategic R&D actor and business champion that has worked with 100+ researchers and high-tech startups.
European Innovation Council
The European Innovation Council (EIC) has been established under the EU Horizon Europe programme. It has a budget of €10.1 billion to support game changing innovations throughout the lifecycle from early-stage research, to proof of concept, technology transfer, and the financing and scale up of start-ups and SMEs. The strategy and implementation of the EIC is steered by the EIC Board, which has independent members appointed from the world of innovation (entrepreneurs, researchers, investors, corporates and others from the innovation ecosystem).
The EIC Transition funds innovation activities that go beyond the experimental proof of principle in laboratory to support the maturation and validation of novel technologies in the lab and in relevant application environments as well as the development of a business case towards the innovation’s future commercialisation. EIC Transition projects address both technology and market development, possibly including iterative learning processes based on early customer or user feedback. Grants of up to EUR 2.5 million are available to validate and demonstrate technology in application-relevant environment and develop market readiness.
Addressing the global challenge of cancer
Globally, the number of newly diagnosed cancer cases annually is projected to increase from around 14 million in 2012 to almost 25 million by 2030, with most of the increase coming from low- and middle-income countries such as China and India. As cancer continues to be a leading cause of death worldwide, the development of new, safer and more effective treatments is of great importance to continue to fight the global challenge. Improving cancer treatment by enhancing treatment quality and reducing adverse effects is set to significantly improve patient’s life, reduce the burden to health systems through shorter treatment times and lower care costs, and lower rates of cancer recurrence. Importantly, the cost effectiveness of new therapies is a consideration of great relevance to promote global equality in healthcare, considering the severe deficit of healthcare machinery and infrastructure in low- and middle- income countries. Indeed, recent reports have declared a deficit of over 12,000 radiotherapy machines required by 2035 in these regions alone.