Changing the Face of Radiotherapy – the RefleXion X1 Sale That Started It All
On April 9, 2020, the company sold its first RefleXion X1 machine to a U.S. comprehensive cancer institution that is a world leader in cancer research and cancer care. In March, RefleXion received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for image-guided radiotherapy (SBRT, SRS and IMRT), the first steppingstone on the company’s path to biology-guided radiotherapy (BgRT)* a new modality under development that uses the biological signature of each tumor to characterize its movement and to track tumors more precisely for radiotherapy delivery.
As much as the sale of the first RefleXion X1 was a landmark day for the company, it was equally so for Aaron Sass, RefleXion’s director of sales for the west coast. It wasn’t Sass’s first big sale, he’d made many during his 16-year career at Elekta, but it was his first working for an oncology technology startup.
Sass is modest about his own role in the deal, preferring to praise the huge team effort. “The discussion with the institution started before I joined the company, but when I did join in Sept. of 2019, I took the ball and started running the process with Len Lyons, vice president of sales,” says Sass. “To have them [the cancer center] sign for the RefleXion X1, the very first machine ever sold by the company in the time that we did is remarkable. The will and stamina amongst both teams to get it done is what I’m most proud of,” he adds.
The RefleXion X1 deal, Sass says, is a significant feat amidst tough financial and operational times in healthcare, plus the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before joining RefleXion as its first director of sales, Sass began following the company on social media upon learning that Todd Powell became RefleXion’s president and CEO. Sass had worked with Powell at Elekta for more than 10 years. Although he wasn’t looking for a new job, he found himself applying when a position opened up. While the idea of leaving an established vendor for a startup was daunting, Sass felt reassured by the tour he’d had of RefleXion’s manufacturing facility, training center and corporate headquarters. He was also impressed with the company’s staff. “Almost everyone I met had a Ph.D. and had been in the industry for 25+ years. It was an unbelievable team of people with a lot of focus, energy and experience,” he says.
Sass’ final interview of the day with Todd Powell sealed the deal. They discussed the company’s long-term strategy and where Powell envisions the company in 5-10 years. Sass was also excited about RefleXion’s potential to change the future of cancer treatment and the ability to one day treat metastatic cancer with radiation. “I believe RefleXion is on the verge of changing everything for stage 4 cancer,” he says.
Generating sales can be more challenging for a startup than for an established vendor, especially in an industry long dominated by only a few players. But that landscape is changing – there are new and exciting technologies and the options are more diverse than ever before. From traditional linacs to multiple MR linacs, proton systems, new dedicated SRS platforms, and advances in artificial intelligence and adaptive therapy, cancer centers can be overwhelmed trying to determine the best option to add to their cancer program.
“Introducing a new technology right now creates the need for a very convincing and concise clinical and financial story,” says Sass. “Luckily, that is exactly what the RefleXion X1 system provides. I have so many technical advantages, features and benefits to discuss from an IMRT/SBRT standpoint, which is great.” Sass explains that when the discussion shifts to talk about expanding the patient population and bringing in new patients who can benefit from radiotherapy, prospective clients get excited. “Every oncologist I’ve met over the last six months ultimately understands the benefits of RefleXion’s technology and the potential it offers for metastatic disease patients,” he says.
Potential clients are interested in RefleXion’s biology-guided radiotherapy (BgRT) capabilities. “Our early adopters understand that the system’s IMRT, SBRT and SRS capabilities are a necessary stepping stone to get to BgRT, which is our differentiator and our competitive technology advantage,” he says. “This is exciting for clinics because it will be a fully used asset and pave the way to BgRT in the future.”
In many centers Sass has visited, oncologists have shared how they struggle because they have no strategy to treat patients with multiple tumors (multiple mets). “Currently, there is no efficient technology and workflow to do this, and it frustrates both medical and radiation oncologists,” he says. “I’m able to talk to these oncologists about RefleXion and tell them they will have an option to one day treat stage 4 patients.” Often these patients are put on systemic therapy and never see the benefits of the combination therapy that may provide them a better outcome. “This is just one example of how there truly is a medical need and how RefleXion has a vision to help meet it,” Sass explains.
Sass is excited to be part of RefleXion’s team. “I truly believe that the RefleXion X1 will move the needle the farthest in cancer care,” he explains. “I believe we will move the needle farther in terms of actual clinical outcome gains for more cancer patients, and I believe we will move the needle farther in terms of economic gains for the departments who invest in our technology by adding a new and incremental patient population to their business.”
They say opportunity knocks at just the right time and for Sass, it did. “Joining RefleXion was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” he says. “I’ve really enjoyed the experience of working for a startup and building everything from scratch. I believe we have unbelievable potential and a great future ahead of us, and I look forward to seeing where it all goes.”
*The RefleXion X1 is cleared for SBRT, SRS and IMRT. BgRT requires additional regulatory review; this feature is not available for sale.