A 30-person company in the heart of Irvine plans to commercialize a new type of X-ray platform, one that it calls the biggest breakthrough in the imaging industry since the X-ray was invented in 1895.
Lumitron Technologies Inc. is developing products for medical and industrial imaging, with a stated goal of building its first commercial imaging system by the end of the year.
The technology that Lumitron is using is built upon nearly 20 years of federally funded research totaling $220 million.
The 7-year-old company recently completed a $34 million round of financing with backers including Newport Beach’s Roth Capital Partners; it expects it to be the only round of private capital before bringing the technology to market.
Among the many possibilities for the technology, Chief Executive and Chief Technology Officer Chris Barty said his mission for the company is to “find, detect and treat cancer in ways that no one has been able to do before.”
Barty said other potential uses of the company’s imaging products include certification for additive manufacturing parts.
X-ray machines today are largely made the same way as they were first discovered.
Barty explained, “You take electrons and slam ‘em into metal. As the x-rays pass through the body, dense structures like bones absorb the X-ray beam and produce a shadow to show you your broken rib.”
Lumitron’s HyperView platform, on the other hand, uses a new type of high-energy light source (called a laser-Compton source) to recreate the power of a synchrotron device—a particle acceleration machine about the size of a football field that speeds up electrons to nearly the speed of light—in a device the size of a modern CT scanner.
The synchrotron was invented in 1945 and uses magnets to accelerate particles. Due to its large size and half-billion-dollar price tag, it’s not a commercially scalable invention.
There are currently 60 in existence around the world and scientists typically get one week out of a year to conduct studies using the device.
“It’s a common story,” Barty said. “There are a number of studies conducted on synchrotrons that are very compelling from a medical perspective, but completely impractical from a clinical perspective because it takes a year to get time on a synchrotron.”
Lumitron’s product offers the same capabilities in a much smaller and more cost efficient device, providing up to 1,000 times the resolution of a traditional X-ray machine while producing significantly less harmful dose to the patient.
Barty said, by way of example, that if you were looking at a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin County (about 30 miles north of the bridge), and magnified it by 1,000 times, you could see the stitching of a Bentley logo on the seat inside of a car, while it was driving along the bridge.
He added, “From that perspective, when you start talking about medical applications—it’s really a very transformational event.”
Because its platform can see down to the cellular level, the possibilities for cancer discovery and treatment using the HyperView platform are particularly compelling, according to the company.
For example, “There’s a debate right now about the screening process [for mammograms] and whether it prevents or causes cancer because of the exposure to radiation,” Barty explained.
He continued, “With our device, the radiation dose is 100 times lower, so you’d have to get 100 more mammograms for it to be an issue.”
Lumitron’s device would also make the experience more comfortable for women and increase the likelihood of accurate results over time, because the machine doesn’t depend on a technician placing metal plates around the area of the body that needs an X-ray.
In addition to reduced risk for cancer screenings, Lumitron’s platform offers treatment options for cancer patients.
Currently, oncologists treat cancer by adding a radioactive element to a drug, which attaches to cancer cells via proteins that it creates as it grows in the body.
The problem with this type of treatment is twofold: the radiation is known to accumulate elsewhere, like the lymph nodes and pituitary glands, and once the cancer is gone, the radiation doesn’t just leave the body.
The HyperView platform is designed to identify any element on the periodic table and use non-radioactive elements such as gold to detect and treat cancer—without introducing radioactive elements or ever moving the human body, according to Barty.
Other applications include mining rare earth metals—such as the materials needed to power rechargeable batteries in Tesla cars and other electric vehicles—and screening additive manufacturing parts for aviation and aerospace needs.
The company’s first priority is medical applications, Barty said.
Barty received his Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in applied physics from Stanford University and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, physics and chemical engineering from North Carolina State University.
He went on to serve as faculty for Stanford University and led a research organization at the University of California-San Diego.
He then developed the core technologies for Lumitron as chief technology officer for the laser directorate of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), one of three nuclear labs owned by the federal government and housed under the Department of Energy.
He initially set out to develop an X-ray system for national security, with the goal to prevent terrorists from smuggling uranium-235 into the country.
Barty is the sole inventor for about 80% of the company’s core technologies and co-creator of the additional 20%.
He met co-founder and Executive Chairman Maurie Stang through a mutual acquaintance in 2013.
Lumitron was born soon after, though it took another three years to acquire the rights to license the technology.
In 2017, Lumitron finally acquired the commercial rights to license its laser-based technology from the government and Barty departed LLNL the following year.
Barty intended to build Lumitron near LLNL in Pleasanton.
When the University of California-Irvine came knocking, he was still set on Pleasanton for its close proximity to talent.
Then “I spent three days on a recruitment trip, and after a day and a half, it became very clear that it was better for us to build the company here, where the end user is,” Barty said.
Barty cited the UCI Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in OC, as one such example.
Another highlight: the university’s entrepreneurial tech-transfer branch, UCI Beall Applied Innovation.
“There isn’t an entity like Applied Innovation elsewhere,” said Barty, noting its uniqueness even compared to his alma mater Stanford.
“It’s quite remarkable, and it’s not UCI centric. It tries to view itself as a growth hub for OC,” Barty said.
He said recruitment has been a breeze for the business; the company has yet to write a job post and has found talent from both Livermore and OC’s medtech corridor.
Barty was given joint appointments at UCI’s School of Physical Sciences and School of Medicine. He also leads the Convergence Optical Sciences Initiative at the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic, which aims to commercialization optics and photonics technologies for human health.
Other local activities focused on oncology include the City of Hope campus at the Great Park Neighborhoods in Irvine, with a stated $1 billion investment.
Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian is also reportedly working to expand its cancer network, and Keck Medicine of USC plans to build a new cancer clinic close to Hoag’s Newport Beach hospital (see story, page 9).
Lumitron isn’t worried about the technical capabilities of its platform.
Commercial activities rather hinge on the company’s ability to take enough cost out of manufacturing to reach an individual purchasing price point—something the company is working to improve and perfect, Barty said.
Once the device reaches clinical markets, it will compete with modern MRIs, which go for about $3 million today, added Barty.
Prior to regulatory approvals, the company’s first commercial markets are early adopters, hospitals and university researchers who will pay a much higher price because they value the technology for the ability to publish research papers and make discoveries.
“From that perspective, we have a very compelling value proposition,” Barty said. “If you take just 10% of the 16,000 or so research hospitals in the world, you have more than a $10 billion market.”
The company also plans to make a second device, the only difference being a higher voltage machine, for industrial purposes down the line.
Lumitron recently closed a $34 million investment that it calls its founder’s round. The round had a $150 million pre-money valuation, according to a Business Journal estimate.
Singapore-based Vickers Venture Partners led the completion of the founder’s round. Other participants included Roth Capital, as well as Perennial Value Management and Clinton Capital, both in Australia, and several global family offices.
There were no preferred stock terms; all investors took common stock terms, said Barty.
He said the company “is pretty much done raising funds” and will look to public markets for future financing, noting that Vickers is particularly good at helping companies go public.
Lumitron’s headquarters at UCI Research Park is now in the process of expanding from 15,000 square feet to 22,000 square feet.
The extra 7,000 square feet of space, which is still moving ahead with construction, is allocated for on-site manufacturing, which the company aims to keep local and provide research access to UCI faculty and staff.