At the risk of stating the obvious, in too many ways 2020 was the worst year in memory. But anomalously, despite many challenges, it was a good year for focused ultrasound.
I am pleased to report that with your support, the Foundation was able to thrive during the pandemic, and major progress was made in the field.
Frustratingly, focused ultrasound technology has had nothing to offer in the management of COVID. Appreciating this, we kept our heads down this past year and continued working diligently on accomplishing our mission of accelerating the development and adoption of focused ultrasound as a standard of care globally – because in the long term, the importance of this revolutionary, game-changing technology was, and is, undiminished.
While research including preclinical laboratory studies and clinical trials slowed, we saw many truly groundbreaking discoveries in focused ultrasound's mechanisms of action and clinical indications.
Progress was also made in regulatory approvals and reimbursement from both government and commercial insurance. In November, the technology earned its sixth US FDA approval – for the treatment of osteoid osteoma.
This year, focused ultrasound began transitioning from a primarily research and development environment to one of commercial treatment. There was a significant influx of capital to the manufacturers of focused ultrasound equipment, including – for the first time – an important interest from strategic investors. The manufacturers also began implementing remote training and maintenance due to COVID, and many adjusted their business model to respond to the challenges that hospitals face in making capital expenditures. If anything, the pandemic has underscored the value of a noninvasive outpatient therapy such as focused ultrasound, which can keep patients in a safer environment and avoid overtaxed hospital facilities.
At the Foundation, our team and their families stayed healthy, and we implemented a flexible remote work program which remains in place. After an adjustment period early in the year, the team’s productivity has been on par with pre-pandemic levels. We anticipate that this change will continue for the foreseeable future. We are exploring ways to best maintain our exceptional workplace culture, which is the hallmark of the Foundation, even with diminished face-to-face sociality.
Fortunately, we were able to avoid any salary reductions, furloughs, or layoffs for our team this past year. In appreciation of this, in March the Foundation initiated a voluntary tithing program in which team members were asked to personally contribute at least five percent of their take-home pay to individuals and organizations that were less fortunate. As a group – including members of the Board, Council, and local donors – we also supported No Kid Hungry, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, and most importantly the Cedars Healthcare Center, a long-term care facility located directly adjacent to the Foundation that experienced a severe COVID outbreak. We were able to provide Cedars with more than $20,000 in gifts and support, including fulfilling the “Santa’s wish lists” of more than 50 residents.
A highlight of the year was the 7th International Symposium on Focused Ultrasound, which was originally scheduled for November in Bethesda, Maryland, but we rapidly pivoted to an entirely virtual meeting. Despite concerns, we were pleasantly surprised that digital technology proved a superior way to share information and knowledge, and a highly effective way to facilitate collaboration. It also enabled a record number of people to participate in the meeting. Two years ago, the symposium program was three and a half days and included 450 participants from 23 countries; this year, because of the sheer amount of content, the program spanned five days – and more than 1,800 people from 57 countries participated.
Once more, thank you for your continued interest and support in focused ultrasound, which is going to make the difference in the lives of literally millions of people around the world.
Further details of focused ultrasound's incredible progress will be forthcoming in our Year in Review report.
We wish all of you a very happy new year and good health in 2021.
Be well. Be happy.
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Neal F. Kassell, MD, is the founder and chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation.