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Transition time for Winship cancer imaging startup

By Quinn Eastman | Woodruff Health Sciences Center | April 29, 2014

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A deal with industry leader Varian means Velocity Medical Solutions, an imaging software firm founded at Winship Cancer Institute, is growing up.

Co-founder Tim Fox, PhD, is pictured along with the equipment his firm's software helps doctors navigate.

In March, industry leader Varian Medical Systems acquired the key assets of a software development company that was started by researchers at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Velocity Medical Solutions was founded in 2004 by radiation oncologist Ian Crocker, MD, medical physicist Tim Fox, PhD and software engineer Paul Pantalone. Fox will be joining Velocity full time in May.

Velocity's signature product allows doctors to aggregate and integrate images of patients' tumors produced using different technologies such as PET (positron emission tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography), and use that information for treatment planning. PET scanning is valuable for tumor imaging because it visualizes the hyperactive metabolism of the cancer cells. But without the added anatomical detail of an MRI or CT scan, it can be difficult to identify exactly where those cells are located and plan a course of radiation treatment. Fox says he was originally driven by the challenge of making the information gained from PET easier to combine with images from other sources.

"When I saw young physicians in training who weren't confident about incorporating PET into the radiation therapy planning process, I knew it was a problem that needed to be fixed," he says.

The software uses sophisticated algorithms to identify landmarks within different images and align, rotate and warp them together. "Deformable image registration" allows the Velocity software to gather information from varied sources, then integrates pretreatment and post-treatment images with treatment data.

"Our goal is to intelligently assemble treatment data and patient images to improve clinical decision-making," says Fox.

Back in 2007, Velocity had obtained critical support from the Georgia Research Alliance: a combination of seed grants and loans.

"As a startup company, you have to find investors and partners that believe in your ideas and your team," says Joelle Fox, Velocity's chief financial officer (and Tim Fox's wife). "For Velocity, these partners were Emory and the GRA. Without funding from the GRA, we wouldn't have been able to get started."

Since then, Velocity has grown to 30 employees who continue to build on its core technologies, developing tools for database access, cloud-sharing and storage. Its software is already in use at 200 cancer centers worldwide. Varian plans to continue to work with Velocity on developing the software platform.

"We are excited about the possibilities that this acquisition by Varian creates," Fox says in a press release from Varian.  "We expect that Varian will support the continued development of this important clinical tool and help to make it more widely available. We share a common vision to empower oncology care teams to make more confident decisions."