In November, CERN signed an agreement with the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) and medical-technology firm THERYQ to develop a novel “FLASH” radiotherapy device. The device – the first of its kind and based on CERN technology – will use very high-energy electrons (VHEEs) to treat cancers that are resistant to conventional treatments, with reduced side effects. Currently, around one third of cancers are resistant to conventional radiation therapy.
VHEE FLASH technology has several advantages in addition to being capable of reaching deep-seated tumours. For example, high-energy electrons can be focused and oriented in a way that is almost impossible with X-rays, and radiotherapy devices based on electron accelerator technology will be more compact and less expensive than current proton-based therapy devices.
FLASH radiotherapy has produced impressive results in pre-clinical animal studies at CHUV, while THERYQ, a spinoff of PMB-ALCEN, in partnership with CHUV, has been developing the technique since the beginning of 2013. CERN has responded to the challenge of producing a high dose of very-high-energy electrons in less than 100 milliseconds, as required for FLASH radiotherapy, by designing a unique accelerator based on CLIC (Compact Linear Collider) technology. The device will include a compact linear accelerator, to be manufactured by THERYQ, and use VHEE beams with energies between 100 and 200 MeV, allowing all types of cancers up to a depth of 20 cm to be treated using the FLASH technique. It is expected to be operational within two years, with the first clinical trials planned for 2025.
The new tripartite agreement between CERN, CHUV and THERYQ covers the development, planning, regulatory compliance and construction of the world’s first radiotherapy device capable of treating large, deep-seated tumours using the FLASH technique. “FLASH therapy embodies the spirit of innovation that drives us in this field,” explains Philippe Eckert, director general of CHUV. “Eager to offer the most effective techniques to patients, we have joined forces with a world-class research centre and a cutting-edge industrial partner to solve a medical, physical and technical problem and find innovative solutions to fight cancer.”