Killing cancer safely
Scientists at the French Medical Research Institute (INSERM) developed a minimally invasive procedure to kill off prostate cancer cells without damaging nearby tissue. Marketed by medical company EDAP TMS, the procedure is used to treat cancer patients all over the world.
At a glance
Inventors: Albert Gelet, Jean-Yves Chapelon, Dominique Cathignol and Emmanuel Blanc, France
Invention: Therapeutic prostate cancer treatment probe
Sector: Medical technology
Company: Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM), EDAP TMS
Prostate cancer is currently the most common cancer in male patients in Europe. Worldwide, over 670 000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year; the figure for Europe is about 300 000.
Thanks to advancements in treatment, the five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with prostate cancer in Europe is currently 73.9 percent. But many treatments are very aggressive and take a heavy toll on patients.
A safer treatment arrived with High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU), developed by French scientists Albert Gelet, Jean-Yves Chapelon, Dominique Cathignol and Emmanuel Blanc at INSERM and medical company EDAP TMS (formerly Technomed).
Development of the system started in the late 1980s, when the team at INSERM began investigating ultrasound as a way to kill off prostate cancer tissue. Ultrasound can be focused very closely onto a small area, killing cancer cells with heat between 80-100 degrees Celsius.
This approach, called High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU), presents clear advantages over other treatments. Ultrasonic waves damage healthy tissue near the cancer site. With HIFU - because its beam is so small and not ionizing - adjacent healthy tissue remains intact.
The scientists at INSERM developed a prototype HIFU treatment machine, further developed and marketed by EDAP TMS. The French company was founded in 1979 and has since emerged as a global leader in HIFU treatment.
The company's Ablatherm HIFU machine, based on the pioneering work done at INSERM, entered the market in 2000. A fully robotic device containing an imaging and an ultrasound tool, it has since been used on patients all over Europe.
By 2009, the number of HIFU treatments had grown to over 20 000 cases at medical centres across Europe. The company sells roughly five to ten Ablatherm machines each year but its main business is leasing machines on a per-procedure basis.
Riding on the success of Ablatherm in Europe, EDAP TMS reported revenues of €16.8 million ($23.0 million) for the first nine months of 2009, a total increase of 19.8% compared to the previous year. The company's HIFU division accounted for €6.3 million ($8.7 million) in revenue. The company aims to continue developing HIFU technology to treat other types of cancer.