Israeli startup company Nanox completed development of its novel digital X-ray at the start of the year, and is looking to market the device that promises to slash the cost and time needed for medical imaging. Hundreds of millions of people with no access to imaging services could benefit.
The Nanox.ARC was distantly inspired by the sickbay of the 1960s television series Star Trek, where “Bones” McCoy would swipe a device over a patient to get a complete instant medical picture. On a practical level, the research and development was born of a failed project at the Japanese company Sony to develop LED screens.
From that unusual start, Nanox has developed a version of the traditional x-ray machine that is not only more compact but produces 3-D images and costs a fraction of conventional imaging devices and produces less radiation. A CT scanner, for example, can cost millions of dollars and weigh as much as three tons, compared to just $10,000 and 70 kilos for the Nanox.
The Nanox.ARC isn’t designed to replace CTs and other heavy-duty equipment at hospitals, but it could provide imaging services in vast areas that have no access to larger machinery. The company has applied for permits to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Europe’s CE and Israeli regulators.
The World Health Organization says two thirds of the world’s population has no access to medical imaging services. Even those who do often have to wait a long time for an appointment, and in some places, months. They have to wait even longer to get the results.
“For the first time, these devices will be able to be installed in urgent care units in the United States, which don’t have the resources to buy advanced imaging devices – and there are 9,600 of these, more than there are hospitals in the country,” said Nanox CEO and founder Ran Poliakine. “Veterinarians, chiropractors, doctors and clinics – our device will give them the diagnostic capabilities and early detection. We’re not selling technology but access.
“In the past, EKG examinations of the heart were rare, complicated and costly. Today, there’s an EKG that’s like an Apple Watch and available to everyone. Nanox wants to do for the world of medical imaging what happened to the world of EKGs - complete access for everyone, any time, rather than waiting weeks or months for an appointment,” Poliakine said.
Nanox’s business model is based on the sale of a service, not the devices or disposable components. The company will supply the device at no cost and collect a fee on each scan, the company says. The service will be affordable in poor countries and for the economically disadvantaged populations in wealthier nations. The company aims to seek financing from governments, insurance companies and private donors.
The device looks like a huge ring that moves up and down a scanner table on which the patient lies. It includes software that integrates it with the internet cloud, where the images are stored. The images are sent to radiologists, who can examine them remotely or to companies that use artificial intelligence to analyze them.
Down the line the company would like to see the Nanox.ARC serving as a platform for other startups in the imaging field to help develop AI- and deep-learning-based technology for next-generation analytical tools in such companies as Zebra Medical Vision and IMedis, which already have FDA clearance for AI products that assist radiologists with diagnoses.
“The Nanox system operates similarly to open source license,” said Poliakine. “Everyone can collaborate with Nanox and develop more interfaces on it to help improve public health.”
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Nanox has an ambitious goal of deploying 15,000 of its devices globally by 2023. It has signed a distribution agreement with Gateway Group or Australia, New Zealand and Norway under which Gateway commits to taking 1,000 Nanox.ARCs and using them to conduct scans worth a minimum of $174 million. Nanox also has a strategic agreement with USARAD Holdings, a radiology-on-demand provider, involving 3,000 devices.
These agreements hinge on regulatory approval, but in the meantime, Nanox is readying to install a device at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center to be used for developing novel early-detection and screening protocols to promote global preventive healthcare practices. Research is scheduled to begin the first quarter of 2021.
Nanox was formed in 2012, but its origins date back to an ambitious project at Sony for a novel LED screen. A team worked on the idea for seven years at a cost of more than $1 billion. The project never yielded the screen because Sony canned it after Panasonic got to the market with a similar, lower-cost device. But along the way the team designed tiny silicon chips capable of creating consistent and exacting screenshot images, Poliakine said.
Hitoshi Masuya, a Japanese venture capitalist, was convinced that the technology could be used in other applications and brought the idea to Poliakine. Poliakine had been one of the founders of Powermat, an Israeli startup that had developed wireless charging technology. The pair formed Nanox in Israel and Japan. Poliakine is CEO while Masuya is in charge of Japanese operations. Morry Blumenfeld, a former senior executive in General Electric’s medical-imaging business, serves as chairman of the advisory board.
X-ray technology was developed at the end of the 19th century and to this day uses the same basic technology, based on heating a metal filament to 2000 degrees Centigrade. The filament emits electrons that collide with an anode to create x-rays. The process uses a lot of electricity to keep the device cool. Nanox uses a proprietary silicon chip embedded with 100 million microcones that generate x-rays There are no moving parts, no need for cooling and no need for lots of electric power.
Nanox has thus far raised $55 million and employs 60 people, 38 in its Israel R&D center ad the rest at production facilities in Japan, the U.S. and South Korea. Among its backers are Taiwanese company Foxconn, the photographic film company Fujifilm and Korea’s SK Telecom.