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TechTrans Awards

National Research Council Canada / MDS Nordion

Successfully adapting the classic Monte Carlo Simulation technique, maintaining high accuracy and increasing its speed to suit the specific requirements of radiation therapy treatment of cancer patients.

Iwan Kawrakow and David Rogers
Institute for National Measurement Standards, National Research Council Canada

Clement Langemeyer
Business Relations Office, National Research Council Canada

William J. Dickie
MDS Nordion

The ability to recognize both a good opportunity and the right partner to help develop it is the key to successful technology transfer. Looking for advice on a business program in 1999, executives of MDS Nordion, a Canadian company that specializes in radiation technologies used to diagnose, prevent and treat cancer and other diseases, approached the Institute for National Measurement Standards (INMS) of the National Research Council Canada (NRC). While there, they heard about the work of Dr. Iwan Kawrakow, a federal research scientist developing an INMS project that would allow cancer clinic technicians to direct radiation doses to tumors with greater accuracy and thereby minimize exposure to healthy tissue. Dr. Kawrakow and MDS Nordion were well acquainted: the scientist, who had worked on similar techniques before joining NRC, had established contacts with a Swedish company that MDS Nordion had purchased. This latest project centred on a refinement of the classic Monte Carlo Simulation technique, an extremely accurate but slow method of random sampling calculation traditionally used in several disciplines to solve numerical problems.

The union was a perfect match on three counts. An INMS team led by Dr. Kawrakow had managed to develop a software package that maintained the accuracy of the Monte Carlo technique but was a hundred times faster than previous approaches, which made it suitable for the specific requirements of radiation therapy. The NRC, a world leader in the field, had worked on Monte Carlo calculations since 1980 and wanted to find a Canadian company to commercialize the technique. In turn, MDS Nordion could add a complete range of dedicated technologies and services for the planning and delivery of the treatment program, as well as information management for the oncology clinic, to its product line of leading-edge therapy systems. Based in Ottawa, the company also had several offices across Canada and in Europe and Asia and was well positioned to market the technology worldwide. The team used their combined knowledge and skills to explore a number of alternative commercialization models, settling on a licence for Monte Carlo code for electron beam calculations, with an option for the more complex code for photon beams. Calculations of radiation doses in a patient that once took hours to complete could now be accomplished in only minutes on a desktop personal computer. In December 2000, MDS Nordion exercised the option for the photon Monte Carlo code and began to incorporate it into its treatment planning systems for cancer care.

A breakthrough treatment in radiation therapy, the technology is expected to generate as much as $2 million in annual sales after it completes the regulatory approval process, and more than $10 million in the first five years. More importantly, the system may be available for use in clinics as early as 2002, bringing accuracy, speed and new hope to the treatment and prevention of cancer.

Sponsored by:
Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall

Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall

National Research Council Canada / Mds Nordion

From left to right: Paul Salvatore, Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall (sponsor); Janusz Lusztyk and Iwan Kawrakow, Institute for National Measurement Standards(INMS), NRC, who also accepted on behalf of David Rogers, INMS/NRC; Clement Langemeyer, Business Relations Office, NRC; and Mark Broeders who accepted on behalf of William Dickie, MDS Nordion.