Israeli startup seeks to freeze bladder tumors after seeing success in pigs

Vessi Medical is looking to raise funds to begin human cryotherapy trials by next year; says treatment for other cancers to follow

Eyal Kochavi, CEO and founder of Vessi Medical Ltd., with a device that has been shown to freeze bladder tumors in pigs (Courtesy)
Eyal Kochavi, CEO and founder of Vessi Medical Ltd., with a device that has been shown to freeze bladder tumors in pigs (Courtesy)

Israeli medical startup Vessi Medical Ltd. says it is on its way to patenting a medical device that can freeze tumors and treat superficial bladder cancers more effectively and less invasively than current procedures.

The Israeli-based startup has “successfully” concluded its first animal trials, and the firm is now looking to raise $1 million to $3 million to begin human trials by next year, according to Eyal Kochavi, CEO and founder of the company.

Vessi Medical, a part of the Trendlines incubator, hopes its unique bladder-specific cryotherapy technology will be used as an alternative to current treatments for the nearly 2 million people who suffer from surface cancer on the inside lining of the bladder.

Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC), which makes up 70-80% of cases, has a high survival rate, but it also has a high chance of returning after initial treatment (up to 70%). This recurrence rate, said Kochavi, can be at least partially attributed to the way the cancer is treated nowadays.

Doctors perform surgery at a hospital in Holon. (illustrative photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Doctors perform surgery at a hospital in Israel (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“The current treatment is like scraping. And scraping the tumor causes it to spread inside, and this is part of the reason for recurrences,” said Kochavi in a phone interview.

Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT), the first line of defense for NMIBC in most hospitals, is a costly and invasive procedure requiring general anesthetic. With a high recurrence rate, patients will likely undergo multiple procedures that increase the odds of complications.

“Many of those patients will have a quality of life like those who have a very invasive and life-threatening bladder cancer,” said Kochavi. “Some even present post-treatment symptoms very similar to patients who have needed to have their bladder removed.”

Cryotherapy — essentially using extreme cold to kill targeted cells — has been used effectively in treating other forms of cancer, including breast, cervical and skin cancer.

The patent-pending Vessi Medical cryotherapy system is the first of its kind to be used in treating superficial bladder cancer, which has a potential market target of $1.2 billion.

“We just wanted to be focused when we are starting with the device,” said Kochavi. “But after proving that the device is effective inside the bladder, we can use it inside the bladder and also inside other organs.”

The device is inserted transurethrally into the bladder and then uses a cryo-spray that was specifically designed to treat the unique environment of the inside of the bladder.

When using this kind of technology, Kochavi warned, specifically on the insides of humid organs like the bladder, there is a risk of vaporization obstructing the view of surgeons reducing their ability to target specific tissues with the freezing spray.

“The difference in temperature is between minus 80 degrees and plus 40. This can cause a lot of vaporization,” he said.

But the company overcame this problem by balancing between temperature and pressure and has achieved excellent visualization, said Prof. Gilad Amiel, a physician who performed the procedure on pigs.

The procedure can be performed in a doctor’s office or outpatient facility with only a local anesthetic.

“The cost for the healthcare system due to hospitalization and other side effects from the current treatments are high,” noted Kochavi.

Bladder cancer is currently one of the most expensive cancers to treat on a per patient basis, with a large part of that cost arising from its high recurrence rate.

“This could be a win-win-win for patient, doctor and provider,” he said.

The Vessi Medical animal trial was tested on three pigs and all of them demonstrated successful removal of the targeted ablation sites with the surrounding bladder tissue remaining unharmed. The results of the study have yet to be published.

“We’ll need at least $1 million to do the minimum trials, but a little bit more than that to continue to get regulatory clearing,” said Kochavi.

Initial funding for the company’s research has so far been provided through The Trendlines Group, an Israeli incubator that invests in technology-based medical and agricultural companies, who receives grants from the Israel Innovation Authority.

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