During the recent visit from Sonic Concepts’ Founder and President, George Keilman, we asked about the creation, technological advancements, and new applications of the company.
Founded in 1989 and based in Bothell, Washington, Sonic Concepts designs and manufactures ultrasonic transducers and systems. They currently employ 14 people, and their intellectual property portfolio is approaching 30 US patents. Besides the single element and array transducers used for focused ultrasound, their products include imaging probes, hydrophones, software, and focused ultrasound system accessories like water degassing systems, radiation force balance equipment, watt meters, coupling cones, and more.
Q. How did you get started in focused ultrasound?
A. I studied ultrasound while in graduate school for electrical engineering at the University of Washington. Early in my career I worked in diagnostic ultrasound, which evolved over time into therapeutic ultrasound, and eventually focused ultrasound. Sonic Concepts was born in 1989 as a consulting business doing transducer development, and we quickly evolved into prototyping, and eventually manufacturing of devices. Virtually everything we do has an ultrasound component to it – from small ultrasound catheters to large focused ultrasound devices.
Q. Where do you think the industry is heading?
A. The potential for focused ultrasound is great; however, the field needs a commercial success to attract the breadth of venture capital needed to cultivate a robust industry. There are some companies that are alive, but they haven’t paid back their investors yet.
Q. What has to change?
A. I would like to see more effective collaboration between academia and industry. I also believe more grant funding from government and non-profits like the Focused Ultrasound Foundation is needed to advance research and generate data that will encourage investors to participate in future innovation.
Q. How do you work with customers?
A. We have engineered hundreds of different designs for all types of customers and applications – from laboratory prototypes to volume manufacturing. We bring a lot more to the equation than building devices. We help people determine their requirements, counseling on what power to use and how to incorporate imaging. One of the reasons we are successful is that we don’t just give customers what they ask for -- we iterate together until we get to what they need. In addition to designing systems, we also have a lot of ing capabilities. We can devices in our facility in complex and comprehensive ways. We can help characterize devices or to see if they are performing properly.
Q. What are your latest technological advancements?
A. We are making it easier for researchers to move into more complex treatments by bringing arrays to the market. We have a close relationship with Verasonics, and we are investing in building transducers for a computer controlled array-based approach. We are also bringing forward MRI-compatible imaging and focused ultrasound devices.
Q. What new applications of the technology interest you?
A. Recently, Sonic Concepts has been providing research tools for creating microbubbles and monitoring through passive cavitation detection. There are some emerging laboratory medicine applications for treating cells that have a lot of potential because there are fewer regulatory hurdles – gene transfection is such an example. Focused ultrasound can be used to create microbubbles that collapse next to cell walls, creating small holes that make the cell permeable to genes. I’m especially interested in endoscopic applications – an area that hasn’t been explored. There is an opportunity to put focused ultrasound devices on endoscopes to get closer to the target tissue for treating organs like the pancreas.
Q. What are your proudest accomplishments at Sonic Concepts?
A. We are most proud of our ability to deliver increasingly complex research devices, quickly and at a reasonable cost to help drive the field further along. We also are able to maintain confidentiality for a diverse portfolio of clients while enabling them to benefit from our deep knowledge and experience. I feel good about the relationships and trust we have built with researchers. They are a great group of people, and it is very rewarding to collaborate with them.
Q. Do you have any advice for budding FUS entrepreneurs?
It looks to me like some companies that have started in the field have tried to do it all internally when they didn’t need to. Companies can leverage their investor dollars further by going to outside experts to purchase the technology while spending their resources on the pre-clinical and clinical work needed to get to the next round of funding. The technology doesn’t need to be reinvented for every application.