Identifying attractive application fields and developing commercialization strategies for the microScint technology developed by CERN
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one the world’s largest centres for scientific research dedicated to fundamental and high-energy physics. It was founded in 1954 by 12 primary member countries and has developed the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to conduct experiments, foremost the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) as the most famous particle accelerator.
Besides utilizing its inventions for its own purpose, CERN – as a publicly funded research organization – aims at diffusing their technologies to society and industry in order to generate value to the public. One of these inventions is the microScint technology, a highly sensitive radiation detector that allows a precise localization of a travelling particle that passes through the detector.
The primary goal of this project was to identify and evaluate application fields for the microScint technology beyond high-energy physics experiments. The identified fields of application should be analysed with regard to their commercial attractiveness and technological feasibility. In addition, the student team was asked to find suitable R&D and distribution partners willing to support CERN’s attempt to extract value from its technology.
In order to reach these goals, the project was conducted based on the “User Community-based Technological Competence Leveraging” method. This methodological approach includes current and potential users of a technology into the process of searching and evaluating alternative applications and consists of four interrelated steps:
Step 1: Identification of key benefits of the microScint technology
Step 2: Search for new application fields via broadcasting and pyramiding
Step 3: Analysis of application fields concerning their commercial potential, using detailed market-, competitor-, SWOT-analyses
Step 4: Development of commercialization strategies for the most auspicious application fields
After conducting interviews with current and potential users of micro-scintillation detectors, four main benefits of the technology were identified from a user’s perspective. These were 1.) heat & radiation hardness, 2.) highly accurate detection performance, 3.) ability to detect beam baths, and 4.) the capability to detect beam intensity in real-time without path disruption.
Based on these findings, 14 promising fields of application could be identified. They ranged from aircraft guidance systems to portable radiation detection devices. In accordance with the project partner, the four most promising application fields – PET scans, Hadron therapies, implantable radiation detection systems, and non-destructive materials quality testing, were further examined.
While all of these four applications seem to be very interesting business opportunities, CERN is advised to go for PET scans and operate as a development partner of cyclotron producers by licensing the microScint technology to a major player in this industry, e.g. Advanced Cyclotron Systems Inc.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a diagnostic procedure during which a radioisotope is injected into the human body to generate an image of a tumour. Currently, those radioisotopes are produced in special particle beam accelerators called cyclotrons. This process, however, is very inefficient, as the cyclotrons have to be operated at very low intensity in order to prevent accidents with severe consequences while operating. By implementing microScint within a cyclotron, allowing real-time control of the accelerated particle beam, the intensity during production and therefore the efficiency of the process can be greatly increased.
Over 10,000 hospitals worldwide currently use radioisotopes in clinical treatments and the global volume was valued at approximately US$ 5.3 billion in 2013, it is even expected to reach more than US$ 10 billion by 2018, which constitutes a Compound Annual Growth Rate of nearly 15%. Besides developed markets like North America and Europe, the Asia-pacific region, especially China, India and Japan have a particular high growth potential.
In 2013, the radioisotope market was still dominated by technetium 99m, a radioactive tracer used in SPECT scanners, with over 60% of the global market. However, an increasing preference for PET procedures over SPECT can be perceived, which leads to a rising demand for cyclotron-produced PET isotopes. Since competition is fierce among cyclotron producers, it is recommended to establish a strategic alliance with one of the major players in the industry. With more than 20 years of experience and accounting for approximately half of the global cyclotron market, Advanced Cyclotron Systems Inc. represents an expedient partner.
The rising demand for radioisotopes offers a unique opportunity for CERN to make use of the benefits of microScint to address a societal issue by enhancing medical diagnosis.
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