Radiotherapy: the FLASH revolution
Discovered in 2014 at the Institut Curie laboratories by the team led by Dr Vincent Favaudon, the FLASH effect promises to be a real paradigm shift in radiotherapy. Ever since the medical benefits of radiotherapy were demonstrated, therapeutic programmes have had to be conducted in several sessions to limit the side effects of the radiation. Using very intense rays delivered in less than a second, the ultra-high dose rate FLASH technique destroys tumour cells without harming healthy tissue. If the next stages of research validate future clinical applications, FLASH radiotherapy could prove to be a revolution in cancer treatment.
“With innovative approaches that reduce the sensitivity of healthy tissue to radiation, the dose delivered to highly resistant tumours could be increased, significantly fewer treatment sessions would be needed, and there would be additional scope for treating cancers that are currently impossible to treat with radiotherapy,” said Prof. Gilles Créhange, Head of the Radiotherapy Oncology Department at Institut Curie.
FLASH radiotherapy using low-energy electron accelerators has already been shown to be effective for patients undergoing treatment for skin cancers. Work is also in progress on potential applications in intraoperative radiotherapy.
By combining the FLASH effect with a very high-energy electron source, external radiotherapy treatments penetrating deep into human tissue could target deep tumours and avoid major surgical procedures.
A sovereign, world-leading French and European VHEE FLASH ecosystem
Identified as a national priority in the French government's strategy contract for healthcare industries and technologies, the objective is to create a sovereign, world-leading French and European VHEE FLASH ecosystem to treat more cancers and avoid the negative after-effects of radiotherapy.
As the birthplace of radiotherapy more than 100 years ago, Institut Curie has always been at the forefront of innovation in this field and now operates one of Europe's most advanced technical facilities at its Orsay site on the Paris-Saclay University campus.
The new industrial ecosystem will serve as an anchor for other partners and help to safeguard France’s sovereignty in the field of cancer treatment, which is considered a major public health challenge for the next 30 years.
This large-scale project will run for several years and will be conducted in two phases:
• Definition and standardisation of the VHEE FLASH technique by 2026
• Installation of VHEE FLASH equipment in hospitals by 2028
“This partnership with Institut Curie will accelerate research and development into this revolutionary technology. A joint doctoral thesis on the study of radiotherapy using very high-energy electrons (VHEEs) is already underway as the basis for the development of future medical equipment. With its unique experience in complex particle accelerators, Thales has all the industrial resources and know-how needed for this innovative project,” said Charles-Antoine Goffin, Vice President, Microwave and Imaging Subsystems, Thales.
The world’s first facility for human clinical trials
Under the partnership, Institut Curie will work with Thales and other stakeholders to create a new facility to define this new treatment technique, identify priority indications and roll out a comprehensive medical research programme. The facility will be located at Institut Curie’s site in Orsay, in the southwestern suburbs of Paris, which is the only site in France with a suitable clinical setting for this type of equipment. The VHEE FLASH platform will allow the benefits of the technique to be demonstrated in humans, which is a crucial step towards the introduction of the new medical technique in hospitals. The project is the first of its kind in the world and will strengthen Europe’s leadership in this French-developed technology. The ambitious and pioneering collaboration between Institut Curie and Thales is a first step in ensuring that the latest technological and medical innovations are fully exploited in the fight against cancer.
“The expected increase in the number of cancer cases in the decades ahead means we must look for solutions that are more effective and less costly for the healthcare system than those in use or under development today. VHEE FLASH radiotherapy has the potential to meet this demanding requirement.” said Prof. Steven Le Gouill, Director of the Hospital Group at Institut Curie.
“The research by Institut Curie and the speed of its uptake by the scientific community demonstrates the significance of this innovative approach. The challenge will be to raise the necessary funding for industrial scale-up to prevent this French innovation from being developed elsewhere.” said Prof. Alain Puisieux, Director of the Research Centre at Institut Curie.
Institut Curie and Thales (thalesgroup.com) are working with the public authorities to align the funding of this platform with the ambitious goals of the France 2030 investment plan for disruptive medical technologies.
About Institut Curie
Institut Curie (curie.fr), France’s leading cancer centre, combines an internationally renowned research centre with a cutting-edge hospital group, which treats all types of cancer, including the rarest. Founded in 1909 by Marie Curie, Institut Curie employs 3,700 researchers, physicians and health professionals across three sites (Paris, Saint-Cloud and Orsay), all of whom contribute to its three missions of treatment, research and teaching. As a private foundation recognised as a public utility, Institut Curie is authorised to accept donations and bequests, and thanks to the support of its donors, is able to accelerate discoveries and improve patient treatment and quality of life.
Since 2011, Institut Curie (instituts-carnot.eu) is certified as “Institut Carnot Curie Cancer”. The Carnot label is a label of excellence awarded to academic research structures that have demonstrated quality and involvement in collaborative research. Curie Cancer offers industry partners the opportunity to set up research collaborations and benefit from the expertise of Institut Curie teams for the development of innovative treatment solutions for cancer, from biological target to clinical validation. Curie Cancer is a member of the Carnot FINDMED network, a group of 13 Carnot institutes, in order to facilitate access to their technology platforms and innovation capabilities for very small and medium-sized companies, SMEs and SMIs in the pharmaceutical industry.
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