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Translating quantum sensing into cost-effective molecular imaging

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - QUSMI (Translating quantum sensing into cost-effective molecular imaging)

Reporting period: 2017-05-01 to 2018-10-31

"Background and state-of-the-art technology:

Cancerous tumors are a massive contributor to mortality rates worldwide and a socioeconomic burden on healthcare systems. Currently, the diagnosis, staging and treatment assessment of various cancerous tumors rely on the PET/CT (Positron emission tomography / Computer tomography) scanner, considered the gold-standard. However, this technology suffers from significant amount of clinical limitations and disadvantages: besides being very expensive, it exposes patients to harmful ionizing radiation; it requires hospitals to be equipped with a “hot lab” to handle radioactive material; it provides limited information about cancerous lesions, which do not include grade or aggressiveness. Moreover, this method requires weeks, sometimes even months, to determine the response to treatment.

A viable alternative to PET/CT for cancer staging and treatment assessment emerged a decade ago, when a technological breakthrough in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) succeeded in increasing the MRI signal of target molecules by over 10,000-fold. This increase in sensitivity, termed ""hyperpolarization"", enables targeted molecular imaging, and proved successful in assessing tumor aggressiveness and response to therapy. Unfortunately, this promising method is still limited by the long time required to achieve hyperpolarization and the high cost and complexity of the equipment needed for this purpose.


Breakthrough technology by NVision:

A decade long groundbreaking research at Ulm University (UUlm) in Germany and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) in Israel in the field of diamond quantum physics has led to the discovery that the controlling properties of nitrogen-vacancies (NV) centers in diamonds over the surrounding nuclear spins could also be used to transfer the NV optical polarization to other molecules to achieve first-of-a-kind room temperature hyperpolarization of a variety of molecules. The subsequent experimental confirmation of the science has led to the foundation of NVision Imaging Technologies, a spin-off start-up from Ulm University, in 2015 by scientists and business entrepreneurs from Germany and Israel.

NVision leverages the transformative features of diamond NVs to offer a breakthrough in Hyperpolarized MRI - a new Diamond-based polarizer with significant advantages: - (1) Low cost (up to x2.5 lower unit cost than PET/CT); (2) High-throughput (minutes instead of hours to polarize) and (3) Scalability (bench-top instead of room-size) polarizer that fit any MRI lab

By offering an efficient, robust and flexible polarization technology, NVision aims to accelerate research of Hyperpolarized MRI probes and to enable their widespread use. Thus, unlocking the full clinical potential of Hyperpolarized MRI: (1) Viable non-radioactive (safe) metabolic imaging modality (2) Ability to visualize critical metabolic information, indicative of stage and malignancy of tumors (that is unavailable through PET/CT) and (3) Real-time monitoring of treatment efficacy, a real step change in personalized medicine (feedback in days vs. months through PET/CT).


Goals of QUSMI:

The prototype of the Diamond Polarizer is currently under development by NVision. the FET Innovation Launchpad project QUSMI focused on the commercial exploitation of the technology: by assessing the customer needs, reaching out to strategic partners, consolidating the IP portfolio and strategy and developing a sound business plan, QUSMI has placed NVision in a position to attract private investors and paved the way for the commercialization of Diamond-based Hyperpolarized MRI technology.
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Key goals and deliverables of QUSMI were achieved for each of its objectives as detailed below. Through the planned activities of QUSMI NVision has gained the critical support and collaboration of strategic partners in Europe and the US. Moreover, in December 2017, by leveraging many of the deliverables of QUSMI, NVision has secured private funding from tier-1 Silicon Valley and EU Investors to enable further development and commercialization of its technology.

Work completed during the QUSMI project:

1. Understand Product and market: NVision has developed solid understanding of the MRI space and the potential Hyperpolarized MRI market and gained significant knowledge on salient clinical and preclinical applications and their value for end-users and patients

2. Secure IP and establish longer-term IP strategy to ensure successful commercialization: NVision and UUlm completed critical steps in securing required IP and avoiding future infringements (e.g. FTO analysis)

3. Build strategic partnerships with investors and industry leaders: NVision has leveraged the outcomes of QUSMI to engage and gain support of strategic partners. Among them tier-1 MRI labs in EU and US, industry leaders and investors in deep technologies
"The QUSMI project had a significant role in enabling the private funding, ramp-up and growth of NVision Imaging Technologies. The growth of NVision following its successful funding round has manifested through the creation of 20 quality jobs in 2018 (product developers, material scientists, engineers, etc) in Ulm, Germany.

Though The QUSMI project is not focused on the development of the Diamond Polarizer itself, it had an important role in enabling its further development by NVision, thus leading to potential long-term (1) clinical and (2) healthcare and societal benefits:

(1) Clinical benefits:

- Advanced clinical care for patients: potential groundbreaking clinical applications of Hyperpolarized MRI may address significant unmet needs of large patient populations (e.g. accurate tumor assessment among ~700,000 men diagnosed annually with prostate cancer, #1 cancer in men worldwide)

- Drug discovery: Hyperpolarized MRI at scale, leveraged by scientists and pharmaceutical companies, can significantly improve drug discovery by enabling deeper understanding of metabolic and disease pathways


(2) Healthcare and Societal benefits:

- Access to affordable healthcare
The polarization solution developed by NVision has the potential to offer a metabolic imaging solution at 2.5x lower cost (per test) than PET/CT, the current state-of-the-art metabolic imaging modality. As a result - decreasing spend and increasing public access to state of the art imaging

- Growth of companies, creation of quality jobs, kick-starting a competitive European quantum industry
Further major private expenditure in the next 3-5 years to scale-up R&D and operations will drive creation of additional large number of high-quality jobs in the EU (in NVision and among its collaborators in the Quantum ecosystem, e.g. Quantum Grade Diamonds and optics suppliers)

- Scientific breakthroughs in quantum technologies
The development of the Diamond Polarizer is an ambitious goal which will produce along the way several EU scientific breakthroughs by NVision and its collaborating universities and research institutes
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Diamond Polarization