Reflecting on the past year with the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth, I would focus on the next generation. As an adult, I was able to adapt and pull through the challenging times, making sure my employees felt as little strain as possible from their workplace. The education system took much longer to adapt and was not equipped in any way to deal with the new reality. My movement would be to adapt the education system to the 21st century. To make sure my children and their peers will be ready for the challenges they will be faced with in their future careers. Being able to react and adapt efficiently to a rapidly changing environment due to economic, social, environment, or even health crises, is a skillset that must be developed.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chen Levin.
Chen is a seasoned leader in the healthcare space with vast experience in management and operational positions. Throughout her career, Chen contributed to, and played an instrumental part of, the Israeli biomed industry’s continuous growth.
Prior to leading XACT, Chen served as the Executive Director of BioJerusalem, an initiative of the Prime Minister’s Office of the government of Israel to foster the biomed industry in Jerusalem, where she established numerous ventures and collaborations. Before BioJerusalem, Chen served as the CEO of Biomagnesium Systems Ltd., an early stage medical device company. Prior to this, Chen played a key role in the establishment of BioLineRx, Israel’s first Biomed Incubator (now a TASE publicly traded company).
Chen started her career in policy research, helping shape important government biomed industry support schemes. Chen is a member of the founding and steering committee of Women in the Life Sciences Organization (WLSO) in Israel.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My entire career was in and around the medtech industry. I started out as an undergraduate student in 1998 doing policy research and helping shape some significant policy instruments to foster the, then emerging, medtech sector in Israel. Over five years in that first position, I was exposed to the entire sector and got to know many of the leading executives and decision makers. This was the foundation of my career, giving me a unique unbiased perspective into the needs and inner workings of a variety of companies all the way from seed startup companies, to large commercial stage companies that were acquired by multi-nationals, and across the sector from biomed to biotech to medtech companies. I got to know small, private funded service providers all the way to VC backed companies and cash positive operating companies. From there, it was only natural for me to move into the industry and apply what I had absorbed, building on that initial foundation, and expanding my experience through my various positions in finance, business development, consulting and fundraising roles, and two CEO positions to date, including the current one.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Meeting Harel Gadot, the founder of MEDX and XACT Robotics over ten years ago. Harel and I met while I was consulting to one of the government agencies in Israel. Harel had just established MEDX, an investment management firm that is focused on medical device technologies developed in Israel, and I tried to help by making the connection to a tender then published to establish a medtech incubator. That effort failed, but some of the best things come out of failures! We stayed in touch, and almost three years later, in 2013 Harel established XACT Robotics and offered me the CEO position.
Can you tell us about the Cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Developed by XACT Robotics®, our cutting-edge technology is called the XACT ACE™ Robotic System. XACT ACE is the first and only system to combine both planning and monitoring capabilities (i.e. navigation) with hands-free robotic insertion and steering capabilities to guide instruments into the human body during image-guided percutaneous procedures including biopsies, ablations, site-specific drug delivery and other local treatments. During these procedures, accuracy is extremely important as physicians need to ensure that the instrument precisely reaches a target. In many cases, movement by the patient or within the body can change the trajectory required to reach a target of interest. When a procedure is performed using conventional manual methods, if an instrument does not reach a target it is often necessary to repeat the procedure, increasing risk for both the patient and healthcare providers.
Imaging modalities such as CT scanners, ultrasound and MRI have advanced significantly over the last decade, making it possible for physicians to identify very small anatomic targets, but there has not been a robotic device to help with path planning and steering of the instrument until now. Our robot, the size of a tablet, is designed to be able to consistently deliver an instrument to a target with one insertion and with an average accuracy of less than 1.7mm in over 200 pre-clinical and clinical cases, representing a major advance in both timing and accuracy in percutaneous procedures.
This level of performance means that the technology can potentially support earlier diagnosis and treatment for many patients, lower the risk of complications from surgery, lead to shorter recovery times and support more efficient use of radiology services and resources. There are also a number of potential benefits for the physician, including the ability to complete more procedures in less time and reduce physical strain and other risks associated with some procedures.
How do you think this might change the world?
Demand for percutaneous procedures is projected to continue to grow in the years ahead and efforts to keep up with demand can present significant challenges to radiology teams and departments based on factors including limited availability of OR space to perform surgical procedures and limited time available from experienced radiologists. Even with years of experience, manual percutaneous procedures can have unpredictable procedure times and require multiple insertions when a needle must be removed, redirected, and reinserted to reach a target. These variables can limit the ability of IR practices to schedule multiple procedures in a day. In procedures involving radiation, delays in completion of the procedure and the need to reinsert a needle to reach a target can increase radiation or pathogen exposure to the radiologist and the patient. Additionally, manual procedures can put a significant physical strain on radiologists and technicians, who need to bend over each patient to complete the procedure, often based on multiple insertions.
XACT ACE™ offers a solution that may have a significant impact on both IR practices’ efficiency and patient outcomes. The robot can significantly help to improve the chances of procedure success on a first attempt and can be administered by a broad range of radiology professionals, including mid-level team members, as well as physician assistants and fellows. Performing needle insertion for percutaneous procedures “hands free” could help IR practices to better estimate procedure timing and could make it possible to perform many procedures at bedside or other locations outside a surgical suite. Optimizing accuracy and first-try success in reaching a target can lead to more predictable and consistent procedure times and staff utilization, improving FTE and facility resources and increasing revenue and profitability.
In addition to allowing for more predictable procedure times and reducing strain on IRs, XACT ACE™ also has the potential to support earlier diagnosis and treatment. Because the robot allows physicians to reach very small targets, this reduces the need to take a “watch and wait” approach for suspicious lesions in the body. This potentially has the impact to treat often life-threatening illnesses sooner than ever before.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
As technology advances, we are seeing so many innovations that are helping to provide patients with better experiences and address challenges that physicians have faced for years. One concern that many people have with technology is the idea that robots will eventually replace humans in the workforce. The XACT ACE™ system is a tool that actually helps to enhance the physician’s capabilities. XACT ACE™ is designed to combine advanced accurate technology with the physician’s many years of experience performing these procedures to be able to reach very small targets in one insertion.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
We were aware of the current challenges with manual percutaneous procedures and knew that developers in the past had struggled to compensate for soft tissue movement. Our team really focused on the ability of XACT ACE™ to respond to the internal movement of tissues and targets by designing the robot to have non-linear steering capabilities. With these advanced capabilities, the radiologist can plan the trajectory and the instrument will reach the target anywhere in the body on the first attempt. We designed the advanced software algorithm to support 3-D trajectory planning and execution. If the target moves due to patient breathing, patient movement, or tissue compliance, the robot will compensate for that movement and still reach the specified target accurately in one insertion.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Our full commercial launch is underway in the US, Europe and Israel. We are currently having discussions with a number of leading hospitals and radiology centers of excellence across the globe about XACT ACE™. XACT ACE™ was FDA approved in July 2020 and since then in the US we have secured placements at a leading teaching hospital in Massachusetts and Sarasota Interventional Radiology in Sarasota, Florida. So far, our robotic system has been used clinically in lungs, liver, kidneys, retroperitoneal lymph nodes and general tissue targets in the abdomen. All our preclinical and clinical cases to date show that XACT ACE™ is able to accurately target a lesion within 1.7mm on average based on our clinical and preclinical experience in over 200 cases — 1.7mm is about the size of a head of a pin. When we meet with radiologists and hospital decision-makers, we share extensive data demonstrating the accuracy of our robot and how it can help empower radiologists, offer better patient outcomes and enable more efficient use of time and hospital resources. Based on all the benefits XACT ACE™ offers, we believe it is only a matter of time before the robot achieves widespread adoption.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Right now, our main priority is meeting with physicians and hospital decision-makers one-on-one to show them how our technology works and how it can fit into their system. We have attended a variety of conferences to share the XACT ACE™ story and most recently attended the Society of Interventional Radiology SIR 2021 virtual conference. We are working with radiologists and other healthcare practitioners to provide demonstrations of our product and highlight how it can be used to empower them and allow for more accurate percutaneous procedures. We are also working to engage with physicians over social media and have developed the hashtag #XACTonTarget to help spread the word about XACT ACE™’s ability to consistently and accurately reach small targets in the body!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My family without a doubt. My eldest was born while I was well into my first CEO position with a medtech startup company. She was just a few months old when I had to fly out on a roadtrip across Europe to meet with potential strategic partners and raise additional funding for the company. I would not have been able to continue on this very demanding career path without a firm and supportive home base.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I leverage my experience to mentor and help other entrepreneurs and young executives as much as my schedule permits. I have helped several entrepreneurs navigate their first steps in establishing startup companies with issues such as writing business plans, putting together their presentations, protecting intellectual property, raising funds, navigating founding documents and agreements, etc. In the past year, I have also taken on a board of directors seat in a startup company where I believe I can make a significant contribution from my own experience. I also take an active part in various forums and discussion groups to help others and leverage my network.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I believe that some of the most valuable lessons learned come from making mistakes. I have been fortunate enough throughout my career to learn and grow from various mistakes that all entrepreneurs make along the way. Conflict-of-interest situations between the Board of Directors and Shareholders are probably one of the most difficult territories to navigate, especially in a first start-up with little experience. Having said that, I don’t think it would have helped to receive any such advice early on. I probably would not have listened, and I would probably not have learned as much as I did if I had been spared from these experiences.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Reflecting on the past year with the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth, I would focus on the next generation. As an adult, I was able to adapt and pull through the challenging times, making sure my employees felt as little strain as possible from their workplace. The education system took much longer to adapt and was not equipped in any way to deal with the new reality. My movement would be to adapt the education system to the 21st century. To make sure my children and their peers will be ready for the challenges they will be faced with in their future careers. Being able to react and adapt efficiently to a rapidly changing environment due to economic, social, environment, or even health crises, is a skillset that must be developed. It is too early to say what lasting effects COVID-19 will have on our lives, but there certainly will be. As a society, I think we all need to learn from the past year and become better equipped to handle such events in the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It would have to be “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” By Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken.
I have been at crossroads several times in my life. Moving from Canada, where I grew up, to study in Israel where I stayed and developed my career, is just one example. The poem speaks of chance. I could have chosen to stay in Canada and ended up on a very different path than the one pursued. Maybe the alternative path would have been just as exciting and fulfilling. I chose one path over the other for no particular reason and it led me to where I am today. Sometimes it’s that one decision, that will have the most significant impact and there is no way to know in advance. Knowing that chance plays a role in important crossroads, and that we are not always in control is a humbling realization. I try to keep that mind as I continue on my journey.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Autonomous robotics represents the next revolution in medicine. This revolution will truly democratize medicine, bringing equal level treatment worldwide. XACT Robotics is positioned to advance the first autonomous AI driven robotic system to market. The XACT ACETM system, already cleared for commercial use, is the world’s first and only hands-free robotic technology that combines advanced image-based procedure planning and monitoring with robotic instrument insertion and non-linear steering capabilities. The future is already here with remote control features, and artificial intelligence connecting the systems to the cloud just around the corner. XACT ACE™ is already the go-to-system for robotic percutaneous procedures.
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