Tim Fox, one of the founders of Velocity Medical Solutions, LLC, tells people that radiation oncology is akin to designing a war plan on a map – there are areas that are meant to be targeted and areas that need to be avoided. Velocity, a developer of post-diagnostic medical imaging software, was recently accepted into the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), Georgia Tech’s nationally-recognized science and technology incubator that helps Georgia entrepreneurs launch and build successful companies.
“The goal in radiation oncology is to maximize the dose to the tumor volume and minimize the dose to surrounding normal tissue,” he explained. “Physicians need better tools for multi-modality medical imaging and quantitative assessment, and we’ve built a very sophisticated software system that does just that.”
Velocity was founded in 2004 by a group of Emory University School of Medicine colleagues: Fox, Ph.D., board-certified in medical physics and an associate professor of radiation oncology; Ian Crocker, M.D., a board-certified oncologist and professor of radiation oncology; and Paul Pantalone, M.S., a senior computational imaging scientist. According to Fox, the company was born out of their own needs in radiation oncology for better imaging tools.
“We’ve looked at our competitors and focused on what we think are strengths and weaknesses. At Emory, we use other software tools side-by-side with our product, and clinicians are migrating over to our system,” said Fox, who received his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Georgia Tech. “Our strength lies in our ability to incorporate leading-edge molecular imaging techniques while adhering to a physician-based user design.”
The technology – Velocity Advanced Imaging (VelocityAI™) – uses proprietary, scientific algorithms and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last March. Version 1.0, which holds copyright IP protection for the software code, is already in use and features multi-modality image registration and automated tumor contouring technology. This allows various scans such as positron emission tomography (PET), computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance (MR) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) to be overlaid, used and assessed together.
According to Pantalone, who oversees software development, Velocity has incorporated a unique user interface with sophisticated visualization that allows physicians to easily delineate tumor extent, manage workflow and integrate the results into conventional treatment planning systems.
“More and more medical images are being acquired for cancer patients, and VelocityAI™ has the ability to fuse and blend all of these images together,” he noted. “Another simple way of looking at our product is comparing the value contained in weather maps. Combining satellite imagery with Doppler radar provides valuable information to everyone on planning their daily lives. With this product, physicians have a more objective way to plan the ultimate tumor border by viewing many different types of images. When we show this product to them, they immediately see the value.”
Future versions of the software will feature deformable image registration, a means of warping a set of images to match the patient’s planning image with disease sites where the body may morph due to positional changes or changes in the patient’s anatomy. New software will also include atlas-based auto-segmentation, which transposes atlases of normal tissue anatomy onto a patient’s treatment plan. According to Crocker, current systems have very limited anatomical auto-segmentation, so Velocity’s developments in this area will be appreciated by the radiation oncology community.
“Today a physician may spend hours outlining normal tissues on CT and MRI images for an individual patient and this problem is becoming more acute because of the quantity of image information that we have to handle,” commented Crocker. “Like the atlas-based tool, there are no good tools available commercially to meet this important clinical need.”
Other key differences between Velocity and its competitors include the system’s competitive pricing, the ability to increase physicians’ productivity and its simplicity and mobility. For physicians who move between centers, having a software program that can be installed on a laptop is a big plus.
Velocity capitalizes on three market forces: continually rising cancer incidence rates, profitable reimbursement for radiation treatment and the increasing use of functional imaging, which is expected to grow 189 percent over the next 10 years. According to Fox, the product provides a better visualization and localization of the actual disease, thereby increasing treatment success rates.
“Our soon-to-be released therapy response assessment module capitalizes on an unmet need for a product to provide information on the efficacy of cancer therapies,” he stated. “If you can determine at a certain stage that a particular medication is not working, you can switch to another drug. Response assessment during treatment using molecular imaging will certainly be valuable to drug companies.”
Hospital-based treatment sites and freestanding clinics will serve as Velocity’s two primary customer targets; already there have been five site installations. Eventually, the company will perform installations remotely and will offer training sessions in Atlanta.
“In total, we expect to canvas at least 75 to 80 percent of the potential market through a multi-pronged approach,” said Fox. “As a startup, the key is to convince customers that we will be here next year and will be available for product support. We want to selectively target the first 10 to 20 customers, because we understand that having buy-in from certain institutions will make it easier for us to sell to others.”
Currently, the Velocity team includes three employees, not including the three founders. Future growth plans include expanding the engineering group and establishing a service organization for product support as well as a sales and marketing team. Fox said that in five years he expects Velocity to have 30 employees with annual revenues in excess of $10 million.
“As a new company with an FDA-approved medical device on the market, we hope to tap into ATDC’s expertise in developing our sales and service organizations for Velocity. Using the fundraising connections within ATDC, we plan to explore the options for an infusion of outside capital over the next year,” he said. “Our expertise in medical software development combined with FDA regulatory knowledge will complement ATDC’s strengths in marketing, finance and service development.”
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