Providing life-saving care to cancer patients, becoming an internationally renowned doctor and serving as an engineer on a nuclear submarine are crowning career credentials in their own right. But Steven Frank, M.D., MD Anderson radiation expert, can now add innovator and entrepreneur to his list of accomplishments following the conception and development of a new FDA-approved device for prostate cancer.
Understanding that the use of precise and accurate equipment is a prerequisite for good outcomes, Frank invented the first permanently implantable MRI marker, a novel technology designed to help improve the assessment of prostate cancer patients and post-treatment monitoring. Following FDA approval last fall, MD Anderson began implanting the marker this past March.
The idea for the marker came during Frank’s fellowship, when he became interested in using MRI scans – the most effective imaging tool available – for prostate brachytherapy. “Given MRI’s specific capabilities, however, the implanted seeds appeared as ‘black holes’ and couldn’t be clearly seen by physicians. Although the problem wasn’t new, no one was trying to solve it,” he says.
After much experimentation, Frank discovered that cobalt-chloride complex contrast (C4) agent lit up on MRI. Simply, this specific marker would eliminate the ‘black hole.’ “By using the marker radiologists now have a superior ability to adjust radiation dosages appropriately,” says Frank.
Although he lacked formal business training, Frank followed his passion and stepped into the world of commercial licensing, investment funds and startups. In 2008 he founded C4 Imaging LLC to manufacture and market the marker, efforts overseen by a seasoned CEO with industry experience. Frank remains involved, raising funds and securing grants for ongoing research.
From the outset, Frank credits mentors at MD Anderson – all veteran scientists and inventors – who helped him navigate the complex FDA regulatory requirements and other protocols.
“I found myself balancing a dual career life – one as a practicing physician and another as an entrepreneur. It was challenging,” says Frank, also husband and a father of four daughters, ranging in ages one to nine. “Throughout the experience, however, I remained positive that this development would improve the quality of care and ultimately offer prostate cancer patients greater chance of survival.”
Frank’s story is emblematic of a new trend of physician-scientist-entrepreneurs, who are eager to spur innovation, transform medicine and improve patients’ lives. The rise in the number of “entrepreneur doctors” has led to the establishment of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, with a mission to provide “support networks” to business-minded doctors.