Friday, January 07, 2005

Precision missile to precision medical technology

When the three doctors, Gabi Idan, Jacob Vortman and Shuki Vitek, developed the Popeye - a precision guided air-to-surface missile - for the Israel Defense Forces, they never dreamed that the technologies used to develop it would be integrated 25 years later into the medical field and form the basis of two of the world's leading innovations in 2004.
The Wall Street Journal recently announced the winners of its 2004 Technology Innovation awards, and two Israeli companies, in which Idan, Vortman and Vitek were involved, ranked among the top three winners out of 120 entries. Given Imaging of Yokneam, which developed a capsule containing the PillCam, a video camera that photographs the digestive tract, took second. And InSightec of Tirat Carmel, which developed ExAblate 2000, a focused ultrasound system combined with MRI guidance for removing malignant growths in a noninvasive procedure, took third.

Both products went on the market during the past two years, and have been met with success: PillCam sales are expected to reach $60-80 million this year, while ExAblate 2000, which received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval just two months ago, reached sales of $10 million in 2004, its first year on the market. According to InSightec forecasts, sales in 2007 will exceed $100 million.

Vortman attributes the commercial success of his and his colleagues' inventions to the years the three of them spent at the Arms Development Authority (now known as Rafael). Idan developed the homing seekers for the Popeye missile and the Gil anti-tank missile. Vortman, who has a Ph.D. in electrooptics, is considered a pioneer in the development of night-vision systems for the defense establishment. Vitek developed at a later stage the Black Anchor, the target missile used in the trials of the Arrow missile.