High Tech Surgery

Israeli company Insightec, based in Miami, pioneers incision-free surgery using ultrasound technology, revolutionizing treatments for Essential Tremor, Parkinson’s, prostate cancer, uterine fibroids, and more. Guided by MRI, their system delivers precise, scalpel-free surgery, offering immediate relief and significantly improving patients’ quality of life, with success rates exceeding 73%.

Israeli company Insightec is revolutionizing medical surgery – from Miami

By Joseph A. Mann Jr.

Essential Tremor is a debilitating neurological disorder that causes uncontrolled shaking, mostly of the hands and arms. In the U.S. alone, it affects more than 10 million people. Some who suffer the effects of Essential Tremor can be treated by medication for a limited period. But now a new medical technology is offering an alternative treatment with long-term results.

Insightec, an Israeli company run from Miami, has developed incision-free, ultrasound surgery technology that can not only deal with Essential Tremor, but is being successfully applied to tremors in Parkison’s patients, locally confined prostate cancer, uterine fibroids, and for palliation of pain from bone cancer metastases. Insightec is also testing a broader range of surgical applications for use in the brain and other parts of the body. Currently, it is carrying out over 30 active trials in clinical centers around the world, says Dr. Maurice R. Ferré, Miami-based chairman and CEO of the privately held international healthcare company. “This is game-changing technology that will transform how we treat diseases in the future,” he says. “We look at treating patients through a different lens than the pharmaceutical companies.”

Guided by a physician using an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) device to precisely locate a target, Insightec’s system employs a focused ultrasound generator to heat and destroy tissue – typically in the brain – and relieve patients’ symptoms. It is surgery without a scalpel. Insightec’s technology received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016 and is currently used in more than 150 clinics and hospitals in the U.S. and a score of foreign countries. It has successfully treated thousands of patients and is rapidly expanding its coverage.

An outstanding figure in developing new medical technology for more than two decades, Dr. Ferré took over as chairman and CEO of Insightec in 2014. He was attracted by the company’s technological advances and agreed to join if he could manage the firm from Miami; the firm’s CFO, business development, and legal officers are all in Miami as well, where 40 of its employees work. Another 460 work in Israel, Europe, and Asia.

Founded in 1999, Insightec has worked over the last two decades to develop Exablate Neuro – its sound machine scalpel – and related platforms, Dr. Ferré says, investing more than $500 million in the technology. Its revenues in 2022, the last figures released, reached $100 million and “We’re growing in the double digits,” he says.

For treatment of Essential Tremor, Exablate Neuro uses a helmet-shaped ultrasound transducer fitted to a patient’s head, with a pouch that circulates cool water to control the temperature during the procedure. The patient’s head is shaved and, while there is no anesthesia, a patient receives numbing injections at several points where the helmet is screwed into the skull to ensure precision ultrasound targeting.

The patient is then placed in an MRI. A doctor precisely identifies the tissue that needs to be removed and uses the focused ultrasound device to destroy it. The results are immediate: A patient is tested after the procedure – for example holding a glass of water and making simple drawings – so doctors can see that the tremors have been eliminated. Patients usually go home on the same day as the procedure.

Alexandra Liebenthal, a senior advisor for the Financial Advisors Group at investment bank Houlihan Lokey, was one of the early patients with Essential Tremor to receive the focused ultrasound treatment for her hand in 2016. Her severe shaking was eliminated: “It was instantaneous. It was life-changing,” she posted on her LinkedIn account, which tells the story of her surgery and recovery.

Success rates over five years have been above 73 percent, Dr. Ferré says, with strong improvements in quality of life and no long-term complications. The procedure is covered by Medicare and by several large health insurance companies. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Ferré, the son of Maurice A. Ferré, who was Mayor of Miami from 1973 to 1985. “We want to continue to build and accelerate as quickly as possible. I want Insightec to be the next multi-billion dollar company that comes out of Florida.”

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